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June 2, 2009

Digital Media Law: Lawsuit Blocks SAG Negotiations (Feb. 3, 2009)

Filed under: Entertainment — showbizreporting @ 3:20 am
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Lawsuit Blocks SAG Negotiations


A lawsuit to be filed this morning by Screen Actors Guild president Alan Rosenberg against his own union has blocked scheduled negotiations between the Guild and the studio alliance, or AMPTP. The development marks a stunning turn in a SAG negotiating cycle that has moved so far beyond bizarre in the last 12 months that words seem inadequate.

The suit, in which Guild 1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson is also reportedly a plaintiff, seeks a court order blocking SAG from implementing the written assent document that (a) fired the previous National Executive Director (Doug Allen), (b) split his job in two and appointed replacements (David White and John McGuire), (c) dissolved the Guild’s negotiating committee and replaced it with a task force, and (d) barred Rosenberg and others from speaking on behalf of the Guild.

Thus, if granted, the order would (among other things) apparently reinstate Allen and the previous negotiating team. The negotiations were to have taken place today and tomorrow. Instead, a hearing on the suit will take place this morning in Los Angeles Superior Court. The uncertainty created by the soon-to-be-filed litigation led SAG and the AMPTP to postpone their talks, with no new date set.

Rosenberg , notably, threatened two weeks ago to lead a “fucking civil war” in the union if the moderates fired Allen. He appears to be a man of his word. The self-pitying Rosenberg of a few days ago is gone, replaced by the more-familiar hardliner who seems ready to burn the union down in order to save it.

Unknown at this time is whether the pendency of the suit will affect the joint SAG-AFTRA plenary (relating to the commercial negotiations) scheduled for this Saturday. One source close to the situation says there will be no effect. Night-time phone calls to SAG and AFTRA spokespeople have not yet been returned.

The likelihood of success of the suit is unclear. However, law professor Steve Diamond believes Rosenberg and Johnson will achieve little traction. Nonetheless, he indicates that the legal proceedings could take a week or two to resolve. I’m inclined to believe this could take longer, when likely briefing schedules and possible appeals are taken into account.

Meanwhile, a meeting of the Guild’s hardline-dominated Hollywood Board took place tonight from 6:30-10:15 p.m. in open session, and another hour (approximately) in executive session. The meeting was preceded by a rally of about 30 supporters of the hardliners, the Membership First faction. The meeting (other than the executive session) was open to SAG members to observe, and it appeared that most or all who came were able to get in the room or an overflow room.

According a source in the room, the meeting consisted mostly of questions directed at interim National Executive Director David White by Membership First. The MF-ers worked from a sheet of prepared questions, and different MF board members asked various questions. In contrast, Unite for Strength spokesman Ned Vaughn did most or all of the talking for UFS board members. White remained cool under strenuous questioning.

The meeting was apparently orderly, a far cry from the contentious national board meeting two weeks ago. One dramatic moment came when Frances Fisher hurled an accusation at Unite for Strength: “There’s blood on that written assent!” she cried, “It’s on you!” Strangely, none of the board members or executives discussed Rosenberg and Johnson’s impending lawsuit until the end of the meeting, meaning that the litigation came as a surprise for some of the observers.

The lawsuit was first reported by The Wrap, with details added by other sources and reported in Variety, Back Stage’s blog, the Hollywood Reporter, and SAGWatch (and here).


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