Showbizreporting's Blog

February 2, 2010

SAG and AFTRA

SAG Moves towards Joint Bargaining with AFTRA
By Jonathan Handel

Posted: 31 Jan 2010 11:35 PM PST

The SAG National Board yesterday passed a resolution, by a surprising 82% to 18% vote, directing the guild’s president and National Executive Director to “seek engagement with AFTRA in a joint bargaining agreement for negotiation of the Television/Theatrical Contract,” as quoted in a SAG press release. This move is as I predicted in a blog post three weeks ago, based on conversations then with a confidential source.

Those negotiations, scheduled for October 1 – November 15 of this year, would take place “under the terms of Phase One, modeled on the agreement used successfully in the 2009 Commercials Contract negotiations,” per the resolution. Phase One is the 1981 agreement between the two unions under which they have jointly bargained with the studios for almost three decades, with the notable exception of 2007-2009.

The margin was unexpected, since the board is almost evenly divided between factions that support joint bargaining (Unite for Strength and an independent in Los Angeles, and most or all members of the New York and regional boards) and a group (Membership First) that has generally expressed bitter opposition to joint bargaining under Phase One, a framework that gives SAG and AFTRA equal weight on the negotiating committee. (Because of the lateness of the hour, it was not possible to explore this issue with sources, and a call to a SAG spokesperson was not immediately returned.)

The resolution also directs the President, Ken Howard, and National Executive Director, David White, to “bring a recommendation to the National Board at the earliest opportunity.” The urgency presumably stems in part from the fact that AFTRA’s next national board meeting is February 27 meeting, and more generally from the constraints created by the October 1 date and the various processes leading up to it, as I have previously discussed. The TV/theatrical contract doesn’t expire until June 30, 2011, but the agreement reached last year between the studios and SAG mandates early bargaining, specifically, from October 1 through November 15.

The SAG press release is below.

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SAG National Board of Directors Meets via
Videoconference in Los Angeles and New York

Los Angeles, (January 31, 2010) – Screen Actors Guild National Board of Directors voted today to seek engagement with AFTRA in a joint bargaining agreement for negotiation of the Television/Theatrical Contract. Approved 82 to 18 percent, the resolution states:

“It was moved and seconded that in light of SAG’s historically productive negotiating partnership with AFTRA, the SAG National Board of Directors directs President Ken Howard and National Executive Director David White to seek engagement with AFTRA in a joint bargaining agreement for negotiation of the Television/Theatrical Contract, under the terms of Phase One, modeled on the agreement used successfully in the 2009 Commercials Contract negotiations. President Howard and NED White shall bring a recommendation to the National Board at the earliest opportunity.”

Screen Actors Guild President Ken Howard said, “I am very pleased with the vote and thank the Board for their leadership and foresight on this important issue. I so appreciate the Board’s cooperative spirit in this discussion and throughout the day, and feel confident that our Guild is moving in the right direction.”

In other actions, the National Board voted unanimously to create a National Performance Capture Committee to address the unique concerns and experiences of members who render performances that are recorded using “performance capture” technology across all media, and to advise the Guild on all matters pertaining to work in this rapidly growing area.

The board also approved 83 percent to 17 percent the unanimous recommendation of the finance committee to authorize the extension of existing initiation fee reductions in targeted markets across the country and to have the Guild’s Joint Strategic Planning and Finance Committee review the initiation fee structure nationwide.

Reports
The national board received reports from elected leadership and staff including:

• President Howard memorialized those members who have passed away over the last year reading each name aloud and calling for a moment of silent remembrance. Howard also recognized the recent loss of former Houston Branch President and board member Jim Huston, who passed away January 28, 2010.

Mary McDonald-Lewis, Regional Branch Division board member from Portland, Oregon, delivered a special tribute to Huston, saying, “He stood with his brothers and sisters through the best of times and the worst of times, and did so with resolve.“

• Secretary-Treasurer Amy Aquino delivered a report on the Guild’s second quarter financial results noting that SAG’s revenue and expenses are closely tracking the projections for fiscal year 2010. Aquino also provided an update on investment performance indicating recoupment of certain losses in the Guild’s investment portfolio when compared to the prior year.

• National Executive Director David White reported on the strategic planning efforts underway at the Guild and preparation for negotiations. White updated the board on new institutional and member service initiatives including a revitalized organizing strategy and program. White applauded SAG committee members and staff for their innovative and thoughtful work in key areas including the 2010 SAG Awards, government relations and legislative activities, new media outreach activities, and the LifeRaft Live Streaming partnership with SAG Foundation, among other efforts.

The Board also appointed Deputy National Executive Director of Contracts Ray Rodriguez to the Screen Actors Guild-Producers Industry Advancement & Cooperative Fund (IACF) board and addressed a number of governance matters, including a constitutional amendment regarding written assent procedures; an amendment to Branch rules of procedure; advisory recommendations from the annual national membership meeting; amendments to the election guidelines; and a recommendation to study the feasibility of electronic voting.

The meeting adjourned just after 5:00 p.m. PST.

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January 27, 2010

SAG-AFTRA Joint Bargaining

Filed under: Entertainment — showbizreporting @ 3:38 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

SAG-AFTRA Joint Bargaining: AFTRA Hesitates, Slightly; and More
by Jonathan Handel

Posted: 26 Jan 2010 12:33 PM PST

An AFTRA committee, expected to recommend joint bargaining with SAG, instead referred the matter to a subcommittee, the Hollywood Reporter and The Wrap reported. Curious about details, I contacted a source close to AFTRA. (SAG and AFTRA declined to comment.)

The committee that met yesterday is, in fact, AFTRA’s Strategy Cabinet, a key, 25-member committee that advises the AFTRA National Board on important matters. The Cabinet is chaired by AFTRA president Roberta Reardon and includes AFTRA officers and others.

As the Strategy Cabinet’s action indicates, there wasn’t 100% agreement in the room regarding joint bargaining. However, reports my source, there is nonetheless a sense of inevitability that there will, in fact, be joint bargaining. AFTRA wants to develop a framework that it would be comfortable with.

Fortunately, my source indicate that this framework would probably entail only the three well-understood concepts that I discussed in a recent post: (a) 50-50 representation on the negotiating committee (and equal voting strength for all members of the committee), (b) a non-disparagement agreement, and (c) working out the negotiating schedule to accommodate both the joint bargaining (SAG’s bargaining is scheduled for October 1 – November 15) and AFTRA’s always solo “front of the book” bargaining (that portion of their Network Code agreement expires November 15).

As a caveat, the subcommittee to which the Strategy Cabinet referred the matter has not been appointed yet (this is expected in the next few days, and Reardon is expected to be chair), so it may have other thoughts. In any case, these developments make it all the more important for SAG to make decisive moves at its National Board meeting this Sunday towards joint bargaining.

Two other interesting notes from the Strategy Cabinet meeting. One is that AFTRA is continuing with an organizing training program in all Locals whose purpose, I’m told, is to build strength at the bargaining table in AFTRA’s existing areas or jurisdiction, including by increasing AFTRA’s share of work in a variety of areas. Those existing areas include some where AFTRA’s jurisdiction overlaps with SAG’s – scripted basic cable; new media; and video games – as well as other areas that are AFTRA’s alone.

In addition, the Cabinet created a national Actors’ Equity Cooperation Committee to explore with Actors’ Equity areas of mutual interest and concern. This could be a very early step towards merger; who knows? In any case, cooperation, and perhaps a merger, make sense from three very different perspectives.

First, at the level of expensive stage productions, a number of these are mounted by studios (Disney) and/or based on movies. Cooperation or a merger would allow actors to present a united front during bargaining. Bluntly put, the more sources of media conglomerate revenue that actors can threaten, the more leverage they have.

Second, at the level of 99-seat productions (in Los Angeles , this is the 99 Seat Plan, commonly referred to as Equity waiver; in New York , the Showcase Code), cooperation or merger might result in allowing small producers to exhibit pay-per-view tapings on YouTube or other websites. This could provide producers – and actors – with a new source of revenue, but is currently forbidden by Equity. Instead, promotional tapings of portions of a show are allowed, but not taping or exhibition of an entire show, to preserve the uniqueness of a live experience. Discussion between AFTRA and Equity might ultimately persuade Equity to become more comfortable with new media, and new revenue sources sought by entrepreneurial producers. The other benefit to actors is, of course, more exposure for their work, which is in fact the purpose of the 99-seat arrangements.

Finally, of course, merger would eliminate duplicative dues payments and presumably make it easier to qualify for health insurance and pension for actors who work in both television and live stage. The Equity pension plan, like AFTRA’s, is a defined benefit plan; interestingly, Equity also has a 401(k) plan. (Equity declined to comment for this story.)

Looks like AFTRA may be slowly bringing actors towards the day when all three performers unions merge, though there are certainly many steps between now and then, if indeed it ever happens. Interesting times.

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Subscribe to my blog (jhandel.com) for more about entertainment law and digital media law. Go to the blog itself to subscribe via RSS or email. Or, follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, or subscribe to my Huffington Post articles. If you work in tech, check out my book How to Write LOIs and Term Sheets.

November 2, 2009

Interactive Contract Actors

Subject: To All Interactive Contract Actors

As the LA Co-chair of the SAG side of the Interactive contract negotiations, I agree with the statement below regarding the Interactive contract.

Anthony DeSantis

From and Interactive community member:

Hello, interactive voiceover industry colleagues and friends.

See below:

[October 29, 2009 3:53:06 PM PDT]

“VOTING MATERIALS FOR THE AFTRA INTERACTIVE [MEDIA TENTATIVE AGREEMENT] have been mailed to approximately 2,200 AFTRA members and should be received in the next several days. AFTRA MEMBERS who receive the materials will be able to VOTE ELECTRONICALLY – IMMEDIATELY.
Only about 30% of those who get ballots actually vote on anything (contract or otherwise) but let’s be generous and say that 1,000 are voting.”
[Source: David Sobolov, SAG/AFTRA, SAG Interactive Committee, Interactive Media Voice Actor]

David estimates about 500 votes will be required to win.

For information about the AFTRA Interactive Media Tentative Agreement, contact your local AFTRA offices. Knowledgeable AFTRA Los Angeles contacts I know of may include:

STAFF:

Mathis L. Dunn, Jr.
Assistant National Executive Director
Commercials and Non-Broadcast
Phone: 323-634-8193
Cell: 206-465-6642
E-Fax: 509-561-5556

Chris Hagstrom

INTERACTIVE MEDIA STEERING COMMITTEE:

Gabrielle Carteris
Phil LaMarr

Remember, GET THE FACTS FROM THE SOURCE BEFORE YOU VOTE! If all the information you have is hearsay, rumor, gossip, received second or third-hand, or propaganda, pick up your phone, and call AFTRA for more information.

Familiarize yourself with the deal and the negotiation process. Look at all the deal points, weigh the pros and cons, evaluate what the negotiators got and what they conceded, and make an informed, thoughtful decision.

Don’t forget to vote get the facts!

-ZH

June 3, 2009

SAG – AFRTRA RATIFY AGREEMENT

 

SAG-AFTRA Ratify Advertising Agreement; SAG Townhall Features Fireworks (May 22, 2009)

 

SAG and AFTRA announced yesterday that their combined paid-up membership, about 132,000 members, overwhelmingly ratified the contracts between the unions and the advertising industry. The result was expected, as there was no organized opposition. About 28% returned their ballots, about typical. Of those voting, about 94% voted yes. The deals expire March 31, 2012.

The news from the TV/theatrical side is nowhere near as placid. The ballots went out a few days ago—they’re due back June 9—and SAG’s conducting a series of town hall meetings across the country. The first was last night in Hollywood, and the fur flew. About 600 people attended according to a staff count; although the crowd was reportedly 70% composed of hardline Membership First partisans, they didn’t manage to fill the room. That’s a bit surprising. I’d expected an overflow crowd, given their (apparent?) strength in Hollywood.

What they slightly lacked in numbers, they made up in volume and conviction, according to sources inside the room. Fellow MF-ers like SAG President Alan Rosenberg were applauded for their statements against ratification, while pro-contract voices such as SAG interim National Executive Director David White were booed. The approximately three-hour confab kicked off with statements from the dais, and was mostly taken up by member questions and comments, which were described as overwhelmingly anti-ratification.

That dais, by the way, included SAG Secretary/Treasurer Connie Stevens, chief negotiator John McGuire, White, SAG 1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson (who chaired the meeting), Unite for Strength leader Ned Vaughn, UFS-er Stacey Travis, Deputy NED Ray Rodriguez, and Rosenberg. General Counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland responded to questions from time to time.

According to Vaughn, Rosenberg was asked at the meeting what he proposed the union do if it voted down the deal. Rosenberg apparently replied that the union should get a strike authorization and then, if necessary, strike. How he expects to conjure up the necessary 75% vote for a strike authorization is unclear. In contrast to that high hurdle, it only takes 50% + 1 (a simple majority) to ratify the deal.

More colorful speakers at the meeting were Ed Asner and Seymour Cassel. Asner compared the contract’s effect on actors to “taking the Jews out and shooting them,” leading one audience member to comment that he hadn’t expected Holocaust metaphors at a SAG meeting. Well, why not? SAG politics seem to know no bounds.

Cassel, for his part, spotted former SAG president Melissa Gilbert, a moderate, and, standing at the mic, referred to her dismissively. Cassel later responded to one of David White’s comments by saying “bullshit.” This was understandably too much for Johnson, as chair of the meeting, and she ordered Cassel to leave. Out in the hallway, Cassel told me that “I tend to speak my mind, perhaps too candidly.” That certainly seems true.

Another notable out in the hall was Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura on the original Star Trek. We chatted briefly about the Star Trek movie, not SAG politics, let alone Trekian essays about SAG politics. There was also a Jack Nicholson lookalike, wearing a snappy suit, white shoes, and tinted eyeglasses. Maybe it was Jack Nicholson, but somehow I wouldn’t expect to see him aimlessly wandering the halls at a SAG meeting and using the hotel ATM.

David White chatted for a bit after the meeting, and explained the contrast between his reaction to the studios’ February offer (it “sucks,” he said at the time) and the current one (“a good deal with solid gains,” he told me yesterday, and, in the context of the economy and the dragged out negotiating process, even a “fantastic” one). The key difference is the contract expiration date, which in the current deal is synchronized with the WGA, AFTRA and DGA (mid-2011). In the February deal, it wasn’t, and the significance is that synchronicity allows at least some of the unions to make common cause and present a united front when the contract is up.

White previously predicted the deal would pass, so this time I asked whether he thought it would pass in Hollywood. (That’s not necessary for passage, but it would give some signal of a reduction in divisiveness within the union.) He predicted it would, citing the strong messages of support he was receiving from Hollywood members (though not at the meeting), but noting judiciously that “members will vote their conscience.”

Ned Vaughn also told me the deal would pass, both in Hollywood and nationally. He pointed to the importance of consolidating gains and negotiating in solidarity with other unions, especially AFTRA, in 2011. I asked if he thought SAG and AFTRA would be merged by 2011, and he replied that he “would love it if they were.”

A contrasting post-meeting voice was MF stalwart and SAG board member Clancy Brown, who explained his opposition to the deal in more measured terms than Asner and Cassel had used. He argued that “there’s a better deal out there to be had,” and cited “the paltry Internet move over residual” and the “larcenous” force majeure settlement as reasons.

The day before, I spoke with 2nd VP Sam Freed, who is president of the New York board, and separately with board member Mike Pniewski of Atlanta, both supporters of ratification. The latter predicted the deal will pass, and commented that the guild “got the best deal we can.” He cited a variety of positive aspects of the deal, and underlined the need for “stability in the marketplace” for labor.

Freed pointed to the estimated $105 million value of the deal, and said it addresses “the plight of the middle class actor.” He emphasized that the level of concern MF expresses over new media was not supported by current figures: of $1.3 billion in SAG earnings in 2008, Freed told me only 0.05% came from new media. (That’s one-twentieth of one percent, not 5%.) Alluding to the opposition, he quipped “There’s a guy who would be complaining if it was raining vegetable soup and he only had a fork in his hand.”

In other union news, Variety reports that 85 year-old actor Theodore Bikel “has been re-elected to an 11th two-year term as president of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America.” The 4-A’s, as it’s known, is in turn a unit of the AFL-CIO. Its affiliates are AFTRA, SAG, Actors’ Equity and several smaller performers unions: American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), and the Guild of Italian American Actors. AFTRA has a direct charter with the AFL-CIO, awarded last year. The other unions are chartered with the 4-A’s, as far as I know, and derive their AFL-CIO affiliation that way (as did AFTRA prior to 2008).

Subscribe to my blog (jhandel.com) for more about SAG, or digital media law generally. Go to the blog itself to subscribe via RSS or email. Or, follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, or subscribe to my Huffington Post articles. If you work in tech, check out my new book How to Write LOIs and Term Sheets.

SAG’s Strange Voyage

 

SAG’s Strange Voyage  (May 19, 2009)

 

Where did the Screen Actors Guild go? After months of news—a near daily barrage covered diligently by various journalists and citizen-journalists, including this author—the guild fell off the radar screen. It was as though 5757 Wilshire, SAG’s national headquarters, somehow disappeared into the black hole that features so prominently in (spoiler alert) the latest “Star Trek” movie.

The quiet was deceptive however. Last week, SAG’s Hollywood board, controlled by the hardline Membership First faction, passed a resolution establishing a task force “to explore the acquisition of actors of AFTRA.” That appears to violate an agreement between the two unions that prohibits disparagement and raiding. The AFL-CIO is currently investigating, and monetary fines are a possibility. The irony is that the guild, controlled (albeit narrowly) by a moderate majority (composed of the Hollywood-based Unite for Strength faction coupled with Hollywood independents and New York and regional members), could find itself punished because of the actions of the autonomous Hollywood Board, controlled by the hardliners. Unfortunately, SAG’s governance structure ensures that there will always be too many starship captains on the bridge at once.

Meanwhile, within SAG itself another battle is looming, and here again the phasers will not be set on stun. Tensions between the hardliners and the moderates rival those between the Federation and the Romulans, and are about to break out again into open war—this time, as the guild membership prepares to vote on the TV/theatrical contract, which was recently approved by the SAG negotiating task force and the guild’s national board. Ballots are being sent to the membership at large today, May 19.

The stakes are high. Ratification will end an almost eleven month stalemate and restart studio theatrical production, which has been at a virtual standstill since the previous contract expired on June 30 last year. Rejection will plunge the union and the AMPTP—the alliance that represents studios and producers—back into stalemate, once again adrift in uncharted nebulas. Nonetheless, the hardliners have pledged to defeat the deal. Although they seem unlikely to succeed—a recent picnic/rally drew at most 70 attendees—they will drive the percentage of ratification down.

For almost two years, the hardliners have acted as though they come from another galaxy, or at least from Planet Claire, where (as the B-52’s explained) “no one has a head.” They started by trying to unilaterally reduce AFTRA’s power on the committee that for decades has jointly bargained the TV/theatrical contract. AFTRA ultimately responded by abandoning the joint arrangement, called Phase 1, and negotiating its own deal with the studios. The hardliners, who at the time controlled the guild, should have foreseen this result, and its effect, which was to reduce not AFTRA’s power but SAG’s.

Compounding this misstep, SAG delayed negotiating with the AMPTP until the contract was almost at the point of expiration. The studios’ response was unsurprising: they accelerated production, stockpiled films, then presented SAG with a take it or leave it offer whose terms mirrored that of the AFTRA deal and, in a key area, mirrored the terms of the Directors Guild and Writers Guild deals as well.

That key area, as even those on the dark side of the moon probably know, is new media. The deal terms in this area, from a union perspective, have gaps in jurisdiction and residuals structure. In this, the SAG hardliners make a significant point. But those gaps flow largely from the revenue-draining effect that new media is having on Hollywood. Technology is driving the perceived value of content towards zero, a matter I discuss in a just-published article in the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law. That’s a pressure that both management and labor struggle to deal with.

Several additional factors helped make the search for better terms than three other unions a doomed mission to a dead planet. These were (1) the general uncertainty surrounding new media business models, (2) the economic fatigue suffered by actors and the rest of the industry in the wake of the 100 day writers strike, and (3) SAG’s lack of bargaining leverage, the latter a circumstance largely engineered by the hardliners themselves. (The recession, whose severity was at first unclear, only made things worse.) It’s as though the hardliners thought they could run at warp speed on cubic zirconia rather than dilithium crystals. Failure was not only an option, it was the predictable outcome.

What’s more, the stalemate itself led to further injury, of four varieties. First, it meant that SAG actors working in TV (a field in which production had continued) did so under the terms of the expired contract, meaning that they missed out on the 3.5% raise that AFTRA received on June 30 of last year by dint of its new deal. That’s amounted in aggregate to tens of millions of dollars foregone.

Second, it means that SAG will be behind AFTRA by 3.5% for at least the remainder of the new contract, because each union will continue to receive annual increases but SAG won’t get an extra bump to bring it to parity. Third, if SAG wants to catch up in the next round of negotiations, in 2011, it will need to trade off some other deal point that it might otherwise have gotten.

Fourth, the stalemate put into play the date that the new contract would expire, which is significant because it determines whether SAG’s deal will expire concurrently with those of the other guilds, allowing it to make common cause with them and increase the leverage of all four above-the-line unions (SAG, AFTRA, DGA and WGA) in the 2011 negotiations. SAG won that point, but at a cost of another two months of delay, from February (when the studios made an offer that would not expire concurrently) until April (when they made the offer that is now on the table). SAG was also forced to compromise pending claims for over $60 million dollars in force majeure payments—claims for actors’ wages lost due to the writers strike—but this may be less of a hit to the guild than it appears, since the contract language on the subject is at best ambiguous.

So where are we now? The ratification ballots are due back June 9, so we’ll know in less than a month whether the long stalemate is finally over. I anticipate ratification will be achieved, but with a percentage in the 60%-75% range, well below the over-90% that’s usually achieved when Hollywood union leadership recommends a contract. Meanwhile, the ballots for the SAG-AFTRA commercials contract with the advertising industry are out to the members, and are due back in two days, on May 21. That one will pass easily, as there’s no organized opposition.

Also of note: several months ago, SAG president Alan Rosenberg and three other hardliners (1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord) sued their own union, seeking to enjoin negotiations and reverse personnel and procedural changes that they correctly anticipated would pave the way for a deal on terms the hardliners are pledged to oppose. Although their requests were denied by both the trial and appeals courts, the lawsuit nonetheless continues in both of those forums (Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC406900 and Second Appellate District 2d Civil No. B214056).

Why don’t the plaintiffs drop the debilitating two-track lawsuit, which flouts the concept of unity trumpeted by the hardliners when they were in power? Their motivation for proceeding in the face of near-certain defeat seems political at this point: dropping the suit would damage the hardliners’ campaign in this fall’s SAG elections, where the SAG presidency, and control of the board, are at stake. (Indeed, the political elbows are so sharp that several of the hardliners are also running in the now-in-progress AFTRA elections, seeking to undermine that union’s leverage from within.) Dismissing the suit would also doom the likely attempt the hardliners will make in the SAG boardroom to obtain reimbursement of their burgeoning legal fees. Meanwhile the guild is, of course, incurring significant fees of its own to defend itself and the forty-odd Board members also named as defendants.

Even assuming the TV/theatrical agreement is ratified, the guild has a long way to go before it’s back in our solar system. SAG’s been without a franchise agreement—the contract between the union and the talent agents—since 2002, and four other agreements are expired as well. The union is riven not only by factionalism but by economic and geographic divisions as well. New media issues will recur in 2011, which is just around the corner, and every three years thereafter, since technology continues to evolve faster than Hollywood can respond, let alone than union agreements can be renegotiated. The guild’s new leadership has made impressive progress in its few short months in office, but there are many light years yet to travel.

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Subscribe to my blog (jhandel.com) for more about SAG, or digital media law generally. Go to the blog itself to subscribe via RSS or email. Or, follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, or subscribe to my Huffington Post articles. If you work in tech, check out my new book How to Write LOIs and Term Sheets.

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