While most of us look back on the last twelve months as a horrible dream, Hollywood’s labor unions can actually point to a string of successes. Early in the pandemic, all three of the above-the-line guilds closed new three year deals that among other things included significant increases in residuals for high-budget streaming programs. Just this month, the WGA finally closed the book on its two-year campaign to bar talent agencies from collecting package commissions and owning interests in production entities exceeding 20%.
Now, in a less dramatic but also forward-looking move, SAG-AFTRA has provided a structure under which social media influencers can work under union contracts. It will work like this. The influencer must have a corporation or LLC that contracts directly with a brand to produce and deliver content. Compensation is freely negotiable with no set minimums. The content must be intended only for YouTube or for the influencer’s or the brand’s social media platforms or websites. Pension and health contributions are payable on the share of the influencer’s compensation (at least 20%) allocated to on-camera services as opposed to writing and producing services.
This structure is a foot in the door for SAG-AFTRA in what it sees as an area of potential growth. It remains to be seen what the uptake will be. In the immediate future, advertisers are for the most part not likely to add pension and health contributions to their payments to influencers, which means that most influencers choosing to work SAG-AFTRA would be going out of pocket for these payments. There may be a group of influencers willing to make these payments in order to get SAG-AFTRA health insurance. Union membership is also a benefit in itself in that it opens doors to work in other media. It may be a bigger boost, however, for the TV and movie stars who are active influencers. This move may give them the leverage to require that their brand include pension and health as part of their compensation.