A bill that would end all network exclusivity contracts between actors and networks faces a major vote showdown in the Senate this month as the state legislature resumed their session on Monday.
According to Assembly Bill 437, authored by Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), it would specifically prohibit contracts for those in the acting profession to have a part saying that they would be halted from working for multiple employers, or in this case, multiple networks and studios. Set to begin in January 2023 if passed, AB 437 also notes that actors could perform anywhere, as long as the productions they want to do don’t overlap in terms of shooting schedules.
Assemblyman Kalra wrote the bill, also dubbed the “Let Actors Work Act,” or LAW Act, largely to free workers from major contract restrictions, as well as help realign the system due to major changes in acting schedules coming from more limited streaming service productions.
“As long as there’s not a conflict, there really shouldn’t be that kind of restriction,” explained Assemblyman Kalra earlier this year. “Artists should be able to work rather than putting the power with the studios.”
The bill quickly garnered support when it was introduced earlier this year, with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) union being the most prominent amongst them. On Sunday, they called the contract system “forced unemployment” due to not being able to pursue other studios projects during their downtime.
No more forced unemployment! Shouldn’t artists have the same rights as every other California worker? Ask your legislator to support the #LAWAct and #LetArtistsWork! https://t.co/yGCLYKJu7y pic.twitter.com/h1Mv9NHQoo
— SAG-AFTRA (@sagaftra) July 31, 2022
Support for, opposition against AB 437
The union, and other bill supporters, contest that the current system is broken. While normal TV show runs last from 13 to 24 episodes on most major networks each year, shows on steaming services tend to b much shorter, with many having between 6 and 10 episodes a year. While this creates more premium entertainment offerings, it also means that actors have much more time between obligated projects and miss out on many jobs in between.
“We just had longer and longer periods of time where people are being held, not working for their original employer and not being allowed to do anything else,” said SAG-AFTRA general counsel Jeffrey P. Bennett during the weekend. “We said, ‘Look, you need to be able to at least let people go work when you are not working them.'”
SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher also added that “Actors should be able to enjoy the same freedoms as all other Californians. Let’s keep the momentum going.”
However, studios have been against the bill, as the end of their contracts would mean that future TV show seasons would be put largely into question, as availability of actors and crew could not be guaranteed. Opponents note that this could lead to major job loss in the industry as well as lead to lower overall wages, especially in entertainment industry heavy cities such as Los Angeles.
“Curtailing the use of exclusive contracts for actors makes such contracts less valuable, which will lead to a reduction in wages paid to actors,” argued the California Chamber of Commerce in June. “Further, elimination of the ability to bargain for exclusivity rights where necessary jeopardizes the ability to timely and reliably produce content. The ripple effect will have a negative impact on the thousands who work on those productions or are otherwise linked to or dependent on them.”
AB 437 itself has seen slow but steady success through the year, including a unanimous 78-0 Assembly vote in May, although that vote had been for a teachers credentials bill before a gut and amend. Despite this, many bill opponents are hoping for a last minute change of heart in either the Senate or from Governor Gavin Newsom, who can veto the bill.
“I hope that the Senators can see how the end of these contracts would severely hurt productions all over the state,” explained Mary Allen Hill, an entertainment industry counsel, to the Globe on Monday. “They need to know that dozens of productions, thousands of jobs, and the possibility that many productions could leave the state to skirt around this bill are all very possible. It’s very worrisome right now.”
AB 437 is expected to go before a Senate vote later this month.
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