This is at least the second time that Tyler Perry has had a run-in with an industry union. You may recall when, in 2008, the Writers Guild of America West filed an "unfair labor practice complaint" against Perry’s production studio after it fired four writers (all African American) who worked on his then TBS comedy, "House of Payne" – firings that were said to be because the writers were seeking union representation.
Perry also allegedly refused to agree to a WGA contract that would give the writers health care benefits or pensions.
The WGA said that the four writers were fired after negotiations between the Writers Guild and representatives of Perry’s production company, broke down.
The writers were also working on the development of what was then a new comedy being produced by Perry, "Meet the Browns."
Attorneys representing Perry said that the writers’ firing had nothing to do with the contract negotiation but was instead related to "the quality of their work." Specifically, this is from their statement: "We continue to work toward a resolution of their contract, and after months of negotiations we have reached agreement with the Guild on every major issue but one – residuals from repeats shown on broadcast television stations."
That didn’t calm the waters, however, but only further raised suspicion, given the timing of the firings, which happened to coincide with when "House Of Payne" was being syndicated, which, as industry writers will know, is when the big money really starts to roll in. It was also just as the writers were starting to work on Perry’s new comedy. Residuals are vital to the financial security of industry writers, if you weren’t already aware.
The matter was eventually resolved (after the NAACP got involved, to mediate), although details of the agreement that was reached weren’t made public.
Skip ahead to today, to news, courtesy of Deadline, which reports that Perry has seemingly found himself in the middle of yet another union dispute. This time with not one, but two actors unions: SAG-AFTRA and Actors’ Equity, with both instructing their members to not work on Perry’s stage play "Madea on the Run," which is currently touring the country. Why? Well, in the case of Actors’ Equity, Perry’s production company hasn’t signed a contract with the union. As for SAG-AFTRA, they actually don’t represent stage actors (screen actors instead), but they’re nonetheless acting in solidarity with Equity, also instructing their members not to work on the show, which Equity has put on its “Do Not Work” list.
Actors who go against the wishes of the unions will "face disciplinary action" for “conduct unbecoming a member” per SAG-AFTRA.
No word on what happens next, if anything, here. Deadline says that the show’s producers did not respond to their request for comment; although I suspect Perry – or someone from his camp – will issue a public statement eventually, especially as this news spreads.
To provide some context here, in brief, a union contract essentially lists the terms and conditions of employment for union members, as well as the employer’s obligations and responsibilities. In this case, ultimately it’s really there to protect the actors. And Perry, in refusing to sign a contract, suggests, as it did in the case of the four writers above, that he doesn’t want to have to be bound to any agreements that might eat into his profits from the show.
The play, which represents Perry’s return to the stage after a brief hiatus, heads to Dallas, TX on August 21.