Showbizreporting's Blog

June 3, 2009



SAG PR battle begins

Guild members to get pitches, ballots



Supporters of SAG’s tentative feature-primetime deal are appealing to the guild’s middle-class actors — and blaming the hardliners for the delay — as the first salvos start in what’s expected to be a bitter battle over ratification of the pact.

Ballots will go out early next month, with a return date three weeks later; specific dates are not yet set. In a message sent Wednesday to New York members, SAG second VP Sam Freed contended the pact will dispel the pervasive ambiguity that’s dogged showbiz since SAG’s master contract expired nearly 10 months ago.

“Ratification will not only guarantee increases in terms and conditions but it will end the uncertainty that working without a contract has caused,” Freed said. “Production can gear up once again, and we can get back to work. The recent changes that your board has made are bearing fruit.”

Freed’s message is a clear swipe at opponents of the pact, led by SAG president Alan Rosenberg and the Membership First Coalition, who have insisted for the past year that SAG has to achieve sweeter terms than the other Hollywood unions — particularly in new media. Rosenberg’s repeatedly criticized the board moderates for failing to present a unified voice during the negotiations.

A moderate coalition gained control of the national board from the hardliners in the fall, fired Doug Allen as SAG topper in January for allegedly botching the negotiations and endorsed the new deal Sunday with 53.6% support. Freed noted that Allen’s replacements — David White as interim national exec director and John McGuire — had been able to persuade the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers to relent on its demand for a full three-year deal, keeping the expiration date of June 2011 in line with those for the DGA, WGA and AFTRA pacts.

“Because of the prolonged period of these negotiations, this contract has a term of only two years,” Freed said. “This was a hard-fought concession that will allow our contract to expire with our sister unions and permit the option of joint negotiations in the future.”

Meanwhile, the deal’s opponents are gearing up their antiratification campaign with a rally today outside the AMPTP headquarters, followed by a gathering at a yet-to-be-determined location during the May 2-3 weekend.

The proponents will likely point to the loss of an estimated $67 million in actor pay gains as a result of Membership First’s refusal to accept the AMPTP’s offer last summer.

Freed said the gains achieved in the deal go directly to the needs of the middle-class actor amid the recession.

“Raises in minimums, increases in major-role performer premiums and the increases in residuals for primetime series reruns represent real dollars in members’ pockets,” he said. “There is a 0.5% increase in pension and health contributions bringing the total contribution to 15%, a gain made even more significant given the state of our economy and the hits our funds have taken. Jurisdiction is awarded in new media with the establishment of a residual structure. A residual formula is created for movie and television downloads that represents an increase over the DVD formula.”

SAG’s deal includes a 3.5% annual hike in minimums — a 3% salary hike in the first year plus a 0.5% gain in pension and health contributions in the first year and a 3.5% salary increase in the second. AFTRA’s three-year deal, unsuccessfully opposed last summer by Rosenberg and Membership First, contains similar provisions but with an addititional year of increases.

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