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A Lone Voice Questions Pact As Vote Nears

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The deadline closes in. SAG and AFTRA members must return their ballots in the referendum on the new feature-film and television contract by Fri., Aug. 10.

Were Vegas taking bets on the vote, odds would be the pact will be approved. The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television Artists' joint board of directors voted overwhelminglyfl82 to 3fl to approve the pact and send it to the 132,000 members nationwide for their concurrence. No organized opposition to the pact seems to have emerged.

And while the New York section of the joint board voted 61-0, with no abstentions, in favor of the agreement, a lone member of the SAG/New York board seems not to agree. Julie Hyman, in fact, seems steamed. So much so, she has consistently e-mailed Back Stage of her concerns about the pact, and even took out an advertisement in the trade paper to voice her reservations.

Hyman, an actress since childhood who is also an attorney, on the one hand, compliments SAG's leadership and negotiators for reaching what she herself calls "the best contract this union has seen in years." But, on the other hand, the leadership's dubbing the contract one for the "middle-income actor"—meaning the journeyman performer who annually earns from $30,000 to $70,000—bothers her.

Her recent ad stated her general concerns for all SAG members covered under the contract, and her e-mails specify empathy for the background actor.

"My only concern as an elected representative of all actors, not only the 'middle-class on-camera principal actor,' is that a contract negotiation should NOT be about one group of individuals, especially a group which represents a small percentage of the membership at the expense of the remaining 80-90%," she explained in her ad. "It should be about ALL actors from different sectors of our community."

In her e-mail, she states that the background actors "in NY have suffered just as much as the principal community," and lists three major reasons: (1) the end of weekend pay and "silent bit"; (2) salary compression, which the SAG leadership has also recognized for all actors; and (3) "more actors competing for less work." On the third point, she complains that SAG has been "extremely lenient on letting in new members."

Hyman feels that the current contracts place backgrounders in the position where they "can barely make their health and pension these days."

She notes, "SAG background also needed the respect of being paid for featured background. They are being misused by producers and paid nothing extra to compensate them for this usage. This is the background actors' number one concern. The background advisory committee endorsed this request. Somehow, the proposal disappeared between the wages and working conditions committee and the negotiating team."

Meanwhile, SAG's leadership has given background actors the lowdown on their salary increases in a summary mailed out with the referendum ballots. The summary noted that SAG background actors will continue to receive salaries according to the six-year agreement made in 1998. It provides for western general background actors a graduated increase over three years from the current $100 to $105 this year, $110 in 2002, and $115 in 2003. The special-ability backgrounders' pay increases $5 a year to $125 in 2003. Stand-ins jump from the current $115 to $125 for the first two years to $130 in the third annum.

For eastern general background performers (New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Boston), the current $108 rises to $111, and then to $115 for the last two years of the pact. Special ability actors see $118 rise to $121, then $125 the last two years. Stand-ins' current $118 rises to $125, then to $130 the last two years. The police uniform allowance doubles from $18 to $36 per day.

SAG leaders evidently feel those gains will satisfy the backgrounders, and the overall contract will please enough of the voting membership to carry the referendum. The new pact could be worth a money increase of anywhere between $120 million to $175 million over the life of the contract. According to SAG figures, film and TV pacts bring SAG performers about $1 billion in income each year.

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