Streaming, Health Care and #MeToo: SAG-AFTRA Candidate Fran Drescher Lays Out Her Vision
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MAY 10: In this screengrab, Fran Drescher speaks during the City of Hope’s East End Chapter/Jeanne Kaye League Of New York City’s Spirit Of Life Awards broadcast on May 10, 2021. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for BCRF)
Streaming, Health Care and #MeToo: SAG-AFTRA Candidate Fran Drescher Lays Out Her Vision
”The Nanny“ alum looks to succeed Gabrielle Carteris with outgoing president’s endorsement
As ballots have been sent out to SAG-AFTRA members to elect their next leadership team, “Hotel Transylvania” and “The Nanny” star Fran Drescher is hoping to succeed Gabrielle Carteris as the president of the actors guild, leading it during a period where wages for streaming films and TV shows is expected to become a white-hot issue for all of Hollywood’s labor unions.
“It’s frustrating to not know how well a show does on a streaming platform and that our members are not benefiting equitably,” Drescher told TheWrap. “A ratio of monies paid to a member must remain in direct correlation with the deal made with the studio. I think if the studio makes money, the member should too and the health plan needs to be paid into.”
Drescher is running with the Unite For Strength slate, picking up the faction’s mantel that has been held by Carteris through her tenure as president starting in April 2016. Along with Carteris, Drescher and UFS have been endorsed by high-profile members like Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin, Rosario Dawson and J.K. Simmons. Until September 2, members will be voting between either Drescher or “Stranger Things” actor Matthew Modine, who is running on the Membership First slate.
Along with streaming residuals, Drescher discussed her plans for the continued development of intimacy coordinators for nude and sex scenes and addressed criticisms made by Modine and Membership First about how Carteris and guild leadership handled changes made to the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan. Drescher pointed out that the health plan’s trustees, who were named in a lawsuit filed by 10 guild members this past winter, operate the plan’s finances independently of the SAG-AFTRA president and that Carteris and her team introduced new health plan options for senior members through the AFL-CIO Mutual Benefit Fund.
“Do we have a perfect situation? No. Was the health plan at risk of going bankrupt within a couple of years when the industry shut down because of the pandemic and producers stopped paying employer contributions into the fund, yet massive claims were continuing to be made, quickly exhausting the reserve? Yes,” she said. “If we make a concerted effort to become a much healthier union body, we can negotiate better policies for lower premiums because of fewer claims. And with imaginative new streams of revenue we can show greater financial support for those who are in need.”
Read the full email interview with Fran Drescher below. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
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When you started your campaign, you mentioned that a key issue for you as president would be allocating dues payments more towards member benefits. What benefits specifically do you believe could use more funding?
In addition to strengthening our core functions like negotiating and enforcing our contracts and making sure members are safe on set, there is always room for a Senior Fund, education programs, social media development, making our industry more eco-friendly, getting members healthier, developing new streams of revenue while streamlining organization infrastructure and more for members.
Wages for streaming projects are expected to be a core issue not just for SAG-AFTRA but all of Hollywood labor. What has been your personal experience with this issue, both in dealing with it in your own career and in your interactions with other actors?
It’s frustrating to not know how well a show does on a streaming platform and that our members are not benefitting equitably. For this reason, I think the structure for the contract should be reconsidered. A ratio of monies paid to a member must remain in direct correlation with the deal made with the studio. If the studio makes money, the member should too and the health plan needs to be paid into. There must be a clean relationship where everyone makes money as well as gets benefits as long as the project does.
I know that many of our members survive on their residuals. We want to make sure that we’re continuing to do the best for them. In the past few years, the union has developed a residual formula which gets every actor paid money for as long as a show stays on that platform, which is great. And the money paid is comparable to the network residuals that had been our lifeblood. So we’ve made strides. I’m going to be looking for ways to keep having improvements made.
Gabrielle Carteris has heavily touted the guild’s recent development of a database for reporting sexual harassment incidents and infrastructure for building a roster of intimacy coordinators. If you are elected, what are the next steps you feel the guild should take to combat harassment and abuse on set and to make the use of intimacy coordinators an industry standard?
The union should set the curriculum and be the gold standard for training intimacy coordinators. This is a whole new field that can be owned by us and a great career opportunity for people who want a trade specialty. As a rape survivor, I’m particularly sensitive to sexual predators which is a very different conversation from intimacy coordinators. Industry-wide, there should be zero tolerance for any inappropriate contact, intimidation, objectification of any of our members. An atmosphere where a victim feels safe and can point her/his finger at a person wielding their power at the expense and violation of another must be called out loudly if we’re ever going to put an end to such unacceptable behavior.
There has been a lot of concern from older guild members about changes to the SAG-AFTRA health plan. If elected, what plans do you have in coordination with the national board and the plan trustees to help mitigate rising costs?
The trustees work independently from the SAG-AFTRA Board. Half of the trustees are appointed by the board and half by the producers themselves. All of this is in accordance with strict federal laws. Each trustee must get regular training education; they have a fiduciary responsibility to the participants and the health plan. It’s upsetting how misleading the Members First messaging has been regarding this trustee decision. There is a clearly defined separation of church and state within the federal labor union laws maintaining Trustee autonomy from the board.
However, I will want to meet all the trustees and make sure there are independent thinkers willing to dig deep for answers to hard problems. We are not allowed in the room, however, when these decisions are being made. The plan did create an HRA (Health Retirement Account) to subsidize our seniors so they could obtain secondary insurance to supplement Medicare coverage. In addition, the new plan for seniors through the AFL-CIO and SAG-AFTRA is an effective option for many. We will keep looking for alternate creative ways to resolve the issue for all. Rising health care costs are a universal problem not just limited to our union or any other. But it’s an important discussion for SAG-AFTRA to be involved in on a national scale which is where my experience on Capitol Hill will be a huge benefit.
Do we have a perfect situation? No. Was the health plan at risk of going bankrupt within a couple of years when the industry shut down because of the pandemic and producers stopped paying employer contributions into the fund, yet massive claims were continuing to be made, quickly exhausting the reserve? Yes. Was it a tough pill to swallow? Yes. But was it illegal? No. If we make a concerted effort to become a much healthier union body, we can negotiate better policies for lower premiums because of fewer claims. And with imaginative new streams of revenue we can show greater financial support for those who are in need.
Between the rise of streaming, diversity pushes, consolidation and #MeToo, Hollywood is undergoing a huge paradigm shift. What is SAG-AFTRA doing or you think needs to do in order to adapt to those changes?
We need to root ourselves firmly in the 21st century and shape the industry to better reflect the diverse times in which we are living. Either jump on board or get left behind. We all collectively must do right by others. We must elevate our consciousness and become a more loving, open minded, respectful egalitarian union body. There is no downside to inclusivity ever.
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