Telenovela Actors Fight for SAG-Aftra Protection

By Stephanie Vilella

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As Telemundo, NBCUniversal’s Spanish-language network, became a major network in the United States, the Screen Actors Guild and the Federation of Television and Radio Artists (“SAG-Aftra”) slammed NBCUniversal for its “double standard” on its talent’s unionization[1]. While Telemundo has positioned itself as the nation’s main employer for Spanish-language programming,[2] it has yet to become a SAG-Aftra union signatory despite the actors’ call for unionization and SAG-Aftra’s zealous campaign for NBCUniversal recognizing union protection for its Spanish-speaking actors.[3] NBCUniversal’s talent in its English-language programming, on the other hand, benefits from SAG-Aftra protection.[4]

Telemundo has reacted to SAG-Aftra’s campaign by distinguishing English-language programming and Spanish-language programming in the United States.[5] This distinction, however, is precluding its actors from getting health insurance, retirement plan contributions, a set-minimum wage, or residuals for subsequent showings of telenovelas.[6] The network is also not liable for any accidents an actor might have while working at Telemundo.[7] Yet NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises Senior Vice President Alfredo Richard told The New York Times that, “‘[the network] remain[s] committed to making Telemundo a great place to work for our employees and continue to invest in them to ensure their salaries and working conditions are competitive.’”[8] However, this scandal arises months after Telemundo did not air SAG-Aftra’s campaign ad for unionization of Telemundo’s actors.[9] According to the Los Angeles Times, the network asserted that SAG-Aftra’s ad “did not pass their legal standards for advertisements.”[10] SAG-Aftra responded by calling it censorship.[11]

SAG-Aftra encourages Telemundo’s actors to sign “authorization cards” so that Telemundo can recognize SAG-Aftra protection for its performers.[12] If this “voluntary recognition” process fails, SAG-Aftra could then ask the National Labor Relations Board to begin a “secret-ballot union election,” which would also involve negotiating voter eligibility.[13] Nevertheless, Telemundo’s actors should continue to fight for their right to unionize.[14] The fact that Telemundo’s programming is in Spanish cannot continue to be dispositive of union protection for its performers.[15] Moreover, under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), Telemundo’s actors have “[f]ull freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.”[16] Even if Telemundo’s actors and SAG-Aftra get to eventually provide Telemundo with a proposed contract, Telemundo can certainly negotiate the terms and conditions included in such proposal because, under the NLRA’s section on “unfair labor practices,” once Telemundo receives the contract proposal, the network just has a duty to bargain in “good faith.”[17]

Thus, Telemundo should strongly consider voluntarily recognizing SAG-Aftra as its actors’ representatives because the network can engage in further negotiations throughout this process.[18] However, SAG-Aftra and Telemundo have expressed different opinions on which process should govern the actors’ path toward unionization.[19] While Telemundo suggested that SAG-Aftra should have the actors vote on unionization, Steve Sidawi, SAG-Aftra’s national director for organizing, opined that membership negotiation would be a better option.[20] Hopefully, these actors will gain protection soon. In the meantime, don’t be surprised if your next uber driver is a famous telenovela star.[21]



[1] See Lizette Alvarez, He Stars in a Spanish-Language Soap. Why is He Driving for Uber?, N.Y. Times, Oct. 20, 2016,; Yvonne Villarreal, Telemundo Refuses to Air Ad from SAG-AFTRA Calling for Pay Uniformity, L.A. Times, Aug. 26, 2016, See generally Acerca de la Campaña / About the Campaign, SAG-AFTRA,

[2] Acerca de la Campaña / About the Campaign, supra note 1; See Alvarez, supra note 1 (“[T]elemundo is the only large network in the United States that hires professional actors, but does not produce its shows under union contracts.”).

[3] See Alvarez, supra note 1; Villarreal, supra note 1; Acerca de la Campaña / About the Campaign, supra note 1.

[4] Acerca de la Campaña / About the Campaign, supra note 1. See generally Para los Artistas de Telemundo, SAG-AFTRA,

[5] Alvarez, supra note 1 (“[T]elemundo’s television shows are produced in Spanish, not English, making it easier for the network to argue that the shows are different from others produced in the United States. As a result, it has been easier for Telemundo to sidestep the pressure from the television industry’s union, SAG-Aftra, which is pushing the network to come to an agreement.”).

[6] Alvarez, supra note 1; Acerca de la Campaña / About the Campaign, supra note 1.

[7] Alvarez, supra note 1.

[8] Id.

[9] Villarreal, supra note 1.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] See Para los Artistas de Telemundo, supra note 4.

[13] Id.; see also Alvarez, supra note 1.

[14] See generally National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C.A. §§151-169 (1935); see also Para los Artistas de Telemundo, supra note 4 (noting that the NLRA gives Telemundo’s actors the right to unionize).

[15] See Alvarez, supra note 1 (“Some of them already belong to SAG-Aftra because they have worked on English-language shows. But once they utter “te quiero” instead of “I love you,” their union protection — along with residuals and health insurance — goes out the door.”).

[16] See National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 151 (1935); See also Para los Artistas de Telemundo, supra note 4 (stating that actors have been signing “authorization cards” supporting SAG-Aftra representation).

[17] See Id. § 158 (1935) (“[t]o bargain collectively is the performance of the mutual obligation of the employer and the representative of the employees to meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith with respect to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment, or the negotiation of an agreement, or any question arising thereunder, and the execution of a written contract incorporating any agreement reached if requested by either party, but such obligation does not compel either party to agree to a proposal or require the making of a concession . . . .”).

[18] See Id.; Para los Artistas de Telemundo, supra note 4 (“While it’s impossible to predict the outcome of collective bargaining, generally union members have been able to achieve: good minimum rates, annual across-the-board salary increases, health and retirement benefits, rules for hours of work and overtime, enforcement of safety protocols on the set, and more transparency in how decisions over working conditions are made.”).

[19] Alvarez, supra note 1.

[20] Id.

[21] See Id.

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