Union Performer Matters: SAG + AFTRA: Extra Performers | Calling Services and Production Staff-Related Duties

At the Industry-Union Standing Committee (IUSC) meeting on November 10, 2011, the Screen Actors Guild (“SAG”) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (“AFTRA”) (collectively, the “Unions”) raised two Union concerns regarding the employment of extras under the SAG Commercials Contract and the AFTRA Television Recorded Commercials Contract.

This Employment of Extras Union Performer Matters is from the Industry-Union Standing Committee, and provided for SAG and AFTRA JPC Authorizers and Direct Signatories to the SAG and AFTRA Commercials Contracts.

[Note: For the sake of brevity, Section references below refer to Sections in the 2003 SAG Commercials Contract-concomitant provisions are also in the AFTRA Television Recorded Commercials Contract.]

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The two issues regarding extras are:

1) Use by extras casting companies of so-called “calling service” companies where such calling service companies require payment of fees by extras as a condition for extras to register with those companies as available for employment; and

2) Preference in hiring given to extra performers in exchange for an extra’s performance of production staff-related duties on set as an extras wrangler or point person.

The Unions notified the industry that they intend to pursue claims in regard to these two issues.

1) Use of Calling Service Companies

Calling service companies maintain rosters of extra performers who are available for employment in commercials.

The employment scenario presented by the Unions is as follows:

  • The signatory employs a casting director/casting company to find performers suitable for the particular production.
  • The casting director/casting company then uses the services of an extras casting company to ascertain (and in some cases directly employ) a pool of suitable extras to provide services in the commercial.
  • The extras casting company then utilizes the services of a calling service company to fulfill the request.

It is the Unions’ contention that calling service companies mandate that extras pay certain fees—e.g., registration fees, monthly fees, or commissions-to the calling service company in order for the extra to be considered for and identified as available for employment.

It is the Unions’ position that use by extras casting companies of calling service companies who require extras to pay such fees is in violation of the following sections of the Commercials Contracts: Schedule D, Sections 3.C, 3.H, 6.A, and 13. Section 3.C, in particular, prohibits payment of any fee as a condition of employment.

The Unions contend that reimbursement to the extras of all fees or commissions paid by the extra performers to the calling service companies is the appropriate remedy under the Commercials Contract.

The Unions further contend that the use by extras casting companies of calling service companies who require extras to pay such fees violates certain state laws. The Unions cite, for example, Section 450 of the California Labor Code, which makes it a misdemeanor for an employer or its hiring agent to charge any sort of fee or require patronage of a third-party company as a condition of employment or an application for such employment.

It is the Unions’ position that signatories should ensure that any extras casting companies they retain, refrain from explicitly or implicitly requiring extra performers to patronize any calling service company or any other similar service requiring payment of any such fees as a condition of applying for or obtaining employment. The Unions have indicated their intent to pursue claims, and arbitrate them if necessary, to put a stop to this practice.

The Unions’ viewpoint is that obligations under the Commercials Contracts apply to signatories who engage a company to provide services even when that company then employs a secondary or tertiary company to provide those services. Signatories are strongly advised to seek the advice of their own legal counsel when determining their legal liability in such circumstances.

2) Use of Extras as “Wranglers”

The Unions contend that extras casting companies sometimes give preference in hiring to an extra performer in exchange for an extras performer’s agreement to perform production staff-related duties on set as a “wrangler” or “point person”, in addition to the extra’s performance in the actual production.

It is the Unions’ position that this practice is a violation of Schedule D, Sections 3.A, 3.B, 3.C, and 3.G of the Commercials Contract.

The Unions contend that Section 3.G, in particular, prohibits employment of any person as an extra performer who is also performing production staff-related duties for an extras casting company. Section 3.G provides a penalty of up to two (2) additional session fees as liquidated damages for the violation of this Section.

It is the Unions’ position that signatories should ensure that any extras casting companies they retain are instructed not to ask any extra performer to carry out production staff-related services on set as a wrangler or point person (e.g., supervising or giving other extra performers direction, responsibility for managing extra performers’ in and out times, assisting in the completion or collection of employment contracts, vouchers, or other paperwork, and photographing extra performers). The Unions have indicated their intent to pursue claims, and arbitrate them if necessary, to put a stop to this practice. Signatories are strongly advised to seek the advice of their own legal counsel when determining their legal liability in such circumstances.