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April 6, 2011

WGA Ballots

Filed under: Entertainment — showbizreporting @ 2:26 pm
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WGA Ballots on the Way for Ratification Vote on Studio Deal

3:15 PM 4/5/2011 by Jonathan Handel
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Ballots can be returned in person at meetings on April 26 or via mail by April 27.

The WGA deal reached last month is on its way to the membership for a ratification vote; ballots are in the mail. That’s evident from the guild website, where a member link provides access to the ratification booklet and related materials, but the guild has continued its mostly sotto voce approach this year by making no public announcement of the mailing.

The ballots are due back to the WGA by 9 a.m. on April 27. Members can also vote in person at meetings in Los Angeles and New York the day before.

Ballots were accompanied by a statement from negotiating committee co-chairs John Bowman and Billy Ray explaining why negotiations had been completed in less than three weeks of talks: “an economy still recovering from a deep recession; an economic pattern set in negotiations with other unions; and the willingness of the Companies to address the Guild’s most pressing economic need, regarding the solvency of the pension plan.”

The materials also included a cover letter from WGA West president John Wells and WGA East president Michael Winship that said, “We highly endorse ratification of this contract” and noting the unanimous recommendation of the negotiating committee, WGA West Board and WGA East Council.

The new accord with the AMPTP follows the pattern set by deals in the last few months with the actors and directors. The new three-year deal provides for 2 percent annual wage increases and a one-time 1.5 percent increase in employer contributions to the guild’s pension plan. SAG, AFTRA and the DGA received 2 percent annual increases also, and a one-time increase in employer contributions to pension and/or health plans.

The writers’ deal also includes a 20 percent increase in pay TV residuals – i.e., the residuals payable when a pay TV show such as Showtime’s Dexter is rerun on pay TV. That gain is less dramatic than the percentage may suggest, however, since those residuals are a small, fixed amount, in contrast to more lucrative formulas provided in the directors and actors agreements.

In a move that the letter acknowledged as “a concession,” the new agreement provides that network primetime residuals will be frozen at current rates for the duration of the contract. Such a move is unusual: primetime residuals usually increase when minimums do.

The new deal also includes a 2 percent increase in first year ad-supported Internet streaming of television programs. The DGA, SAG and AFTRA received a corresponding increase. In the case of the WGA, the dollar amounts involved are $16 to $32 per year.

Like the other unions, the WGA also accepted a shift from first-class air travel to new rules favoring business class and coach.

The WGA did not achieve any significant improvement in workplace conditions such as issues related to “sweepstakes pitching.”

Included with the ratification materials was a letter from WGA member Ari B. Rubin entitled “Divide and Conquer.” Although Rubin accepted the deal as the best obtainable under the circumstances, he decried what he called the studios’ strategy of “divide and conquer,” and colorfully compared it to a strategy the British army used in North Africa during World War II.

October 1, 2010

DML – AFTRA UPDATE

Filed under: Uncategorized — showbizreporting @ 2:39 pm
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AFTRA employees sign new pact

Posted: 30 Sep 2010 02:07 PM PDT

Details: my Hollywood Reporter article.

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Watch for my new book “Hollywood on Strike!,” due out next month. Subscribe to my blog (jhandel.com) for more about entertainment law and digital media law. Check out my residuals chart there too. Go to the blog itself to subscribe via RSS or email. Or, follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, or subscribe to my Forbes.com or Huffington Post articles. If you work in tech, check out my book How to Write LOIs and Term Sheets.

July 6, 2010

Industry Wife and Mother Speaks Out

Subject: An Industry Wife and Mother Speaks Out
This message is from our own Pat Alexander – wife of DGA member Hal Alexander who is a resident at the Motion Picture Home’s Long Term Care unit. Please give this a read and then share your feelings in the comment section on The Wrap. There’s a link at the end. – Richard


Two years ago this September, shortly after our 57th anniversary, I admitted my husband Hal Alexander to the Motion Picture Home’s Long Term Care center.

Hal is a past member of AFTRA, SAG, Actor’s Equity, and to this day is a dues paying member in good standing of the DGA. Having been a volunteer at the Fund for 38 years, I knew that this was the only facility for my husband to convalesce and spend the rest of his days. After all, that was the assurance that I received when Hal was admitted.

No matter what your role in the entertainment industry, you were given star treatment if you were a resident. It was no different for my husband. Until lately.

It should be added that when Hal was admitted to the Fund, the wheels were already turning to close down the Long Term Care unit. It is shameful that this man who gave his life to the industry and fathered three upstanding industry professionals was misled and lied to. Now they want us to foster an environment in the home for care for those they want to wash their hands of.

I had tried to care for Hal in my home. Hal had fallen ill and needed 24-hour care. Care was not only costly, but hardly affordable at nearly $1,000 per week. The strangers that would come into my home to care for my husband created anxiety and mistrust. They were not of the caliber of Hal’s caregivers today.

Since the MPTF was the charity that was first in line when we had extra money to donate, they stepped up to the plate and relieved me and our children of the stress of trying to fulfill an impossible task in caring for Hal at home. Nothing was as impressive as the level of care that greeted my husband for a short time after he was admitted.

It’s all changed now.

The Fund is tearing the people in Long Term Care and their families to pieces. Stop this! Stop this!! Stop this!!! You may as well just put these tragic people in a crematorium and get rid of them quickly. Scatter their ashes in all of the sub-standard long term care facilities that you have pushed others in our industry to. Having done that, you would be free to do what you want with the Long Term Care and Acute Care units and you won’t be killing us, little by little, bit by bit.

It will be over quickly and we can go home and cry. As many of us who are able to pick up the pieces and carry on, we will never forget and never forgive you. More importantly, none of you will be able to forgive yourselves.

Personally, I’ll never forget the day when the handwriting was on the wall, and it was time for me to leave as a volunteer. Because I stood up for the promise that was made to my husband and the then nearly 130 other residents, I was told that I had to make a choice, that my services as a volunteer were no longer needed if I intended to fight for my husband and for long term care to stay open.

I’m not comfortable that people today who care for our beloved family members and friends cannot talk honestly and say what is in their heart without being censored and threatened. I will not let them negate my 38 years of volunteer service, nor my commitment to my husband, my immediate family, and my extended family -– those whose loved ones depend on the promise of “we take care of our own.”

Please comment:

http://www.facebook.com/l/13146PHFpsY7nZtw-uU84x0ynuA;www.thewrap.com/node/18908

May 7, 2010

Merging?

Well – here we go again. I wonder if we will be smart enough to do it this time.

Actors unions’ appear ready to walk down the aisle May 6 – LA Times

By Richard Verrier

Hollywood’s once-bickering actors’ unions appear to be warming up to the idea of a marriage.

That’s the takeaway from an upbeat message published in the Screen Actors Guild magazine from a guild task force exploring the idea of merging SAG with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The guilds earlier this year opted to restore a long-term bargaining partnership that had broken off two years ago because of a host of disagreements.

Although previous attempts at merging the unions failed, relations “have improved significantly” and union leaders are now “openly discussing the potential for a permanent partnership,” the task force said.

“Management’s ability to divide our work is costing members more than ever,” the message read. “Of course, the defining reason to form a single union is clear: Our bargaining power is increased if we cannot be divided. If we give our employers only one outlet for the skilled performers they need, we can maximize our ability to secure strong compensation and protections for the work we do.”

The statement follows a similar “open letter” from AFTRA’s leaders in which they endorsed the concept of creating a “new, strong national union” that would combine the resources of both organizations, which have about 44,000 members in common. In addition to actors, AFTRA also represents disc jockeys, recording artists and broadcast journalists.

Although the presidents of both unions are on board with the idea, a process for merging has yet to be agreed on. What’s more, an overwhelming majority of members in each guild would have to endorse the idea before it could take effect. Such a vote would probably not occur until next year, after the next round of contract negotiations with the studios begins this fall.

Editor’s note: They tried this before when Melissa Gilbert was president of SAG. It didn’t go through. Maybe it will work this time?

January 9, 2010

DML about SAG

Hollywood Labor: SAG Source Says a Strike Unlikely, Joint SAG-AFTRA Bargaining Likely; and the Year Ahead
By Jonathan Handel
Posted: 09 Jan 2010 12:11 AM PST

A SAG strike in the upcoming negotiating cycle is “difficult to envision,” a source from SAG’s moderate faction, Unite for Strength, told me, though he/she cautioned that avoiding one will require that management negotiate reasonably and he/she wouldn’t take the strike option off the table (as, indeed, no union could).

The source also said SAG’s upcoming January 31 national board meeting will probably feature a move towards resurrecting joint bargaining with AFTRA, adding that he/she was confident that bargaining later this year would indeed be jointly conducted. If the board does act on January 31, look for AFTRA’s board to respond at its February 27 meeting.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, suggested the SAG-AFTRA unity move might come in the form of a resolution committing SAG to engage in joint bargaining and empowering someone – David White (SAG’s National Executive Director), Ken Howard (SAG’s elected president) or an appointed committee – to engage in talks with AFTRA towards that goal. (Indeed, Howard has already had informal contacts with AFTRA president Roberta Reardon, as Back Stage has reported.) Successful joint negotiations are, the source indicated, a steppingstone to merger with AFTRA, a goal that UFS has consistently espoused.

The bargaining in question is with the AMPTP (studio alliance) regarding the TV/theatrical contract. Those negotiations were conducted jointly for 27 years under the “Phase I” agreement, but AFTRA suspended that agreement during the last round of negotiations after provocative attempts by SAG (under previous leadership) to modify the agreement to AFTRA’s disadvantage.

Those negotiations will commence October 1, 2010 and run for 6 weeks. The current contract doesn’t expire until June 30, 2011, but the early bargaining is taking place pursuant to a clause included in the current agreement (ratified in June 2009) at the AMPTP’s insistence.

And a heads up: the rest of this article is pretty much insider baseball, so proceed if you want the nitty-gritty details on what the year ahead may hold for Hollywood labor, and SAG in particular.

Negotiating Priorities

The source listed various possible priorities for the negotiations, while cautioning that such a list is obviously subject to change over the next nine months, or at least the next five or six, since I’m told by a source with knowledge of AFTRA scheduling that that union would probably want to arrive at a package of proposals by June or so. (The SAG source’s timing suggests a somewhat later date.)

A more fundamental reason the following list is preliminary is that SAG (and AFTRA) have not yet begun the “wages and working conditions” (W&W) process of canvassing members and soliciting their input on issues of concern. Nor has SAG appointed a Negotiating Committee for the upcoming talks. With those caveats in mind, the priorities the source listed were as follows:

(1) New Media. SAG is not particularly happy with the compromises made in new media. One possible move, depending on what SAG learns from data supplied by the producers (pursuant to an information sharing provision of the new media sideletter to the TV/theatrical agreement), is that SAG might seek a shortening of the time period during which the studios pay low fixed dollar amount residuals for ad-supported streaming of television programs. After the fixed residual period, the contract specifies a percentage of gross receipts. Thus, shortening the fixed residual cycle would move up the point at which potentially more lucrative percentage residuals are paid.

Regarding information sharing, by the way, SAG may have an opportunity to review information from other guilds in addition to what the producers supply, as the source told me that SAG president Ken Howard has had conversations with the presidents of other guilds/unions and hopes that all will share information.

(2) Basic Cable. The SAG basic cable contract is separate from the TV/theatrical agreement, but expires at the same time. (AFTRA doesn’t have a basic cable contract per se; it negotiates one-off deals with the producers, though the deals each have similarities.) In light of the growing number of scripted programs on basic cable – and even the possibility that NBC might one day cease broadcasting and become a basic cable channel – improvements in the basic cable agreement are important to actors.

Here, the UFS source indicated, a priority may be strengthening terms related to working conditions. The TV/theatrical agreement has many provisions regarding meal breaks, overtime, turnaround (the time between end of work one night and call time (start of work) the next day) and the like, whereas the basic cable agreement is less protective of actors in these areas. The actors’ goal here would be to obtain more protections.

Basic cable residuals are much less lucrative to actors than broadcast residuals, but the source did not focus on seeking improvements in this area. Significant improvements may not be achievable, given the lower budgets and smaller audiences of most basic cable programs.

(3) Spanish Language Organizing. This is a growing area of programming, and one that the source cited as a negotiating priority. However, it was not clear to me how this would affect the TV/theatrical agreement itself. Interestingly, the source stated that SAG does not have a negotiating department at present, an issue I did not have a chance to contact SAG’s spokesperson about.

(4) Pension and Health (P&H). Concern in these areas is driven by two factors: (a) The various union pension plans are suffering from diminished assets due to the stock market crash and diminished contributions (which are based on earnings) due to the weakness of the industry, the soft economy, and wages lost due to the 2007-2009 work stoppages. (b) Also under stress are the health plans, which are challenged by the ever-increasing cost of health care, and which may be subject to taxation as “Cadillac plans” under the new health care reform legislation working its way through Congress. For these reasons, P&H may be bigger factors in the upcoming negotiations than they have been in the recent past.

(5) Resynchronizing SAG Minimums. AFTRA reached agreement on its current deal by June 30, 2008, and received a 3.5% bump in minimum wage rates. In contrast, SAG’s deal wasn’t ratified until almost a year later. As a result, SAG received its first increase almost a year after AFTRA, and is therefore at a lower wage rate for the duration of the current contract. A priority for SAG is raising those rates, not just for the obvious reason, but also because synchronizing the two union’s wage rates is a necessary precondition to merger.

It’s clear that the AMPTP would want any increase for SAG wage rates to be paid for by SAG foregoing another economic priority. (The AMPTP, SAG and AFTRA had no comment for this article on any matters.) That raises the question of how to reduce the bite of resynchronization. I suggested one possibility: rather than SAG seeking an immediate double-size increase at the beginning of the 2011-2014 agreement, the guild could instead seek acceleration of its annual increases, resulting in a gradual rise to parity. (Warning – some math ahead. Skip to the next section if you’re phobic . . . .)

Here’s how this approach would work. If the agreement follows the customary pattern, AFTRA will receive annual increases on July 1, 2011, July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2013. Those increases will probably be between 2.5% to 3.5% per year. (They’re 3.5% per year under the current agreements.) SAG will receive an annual increase on July 1, 2011 as well, but that still leaves it one increment (i.e., 3.5%) behind AFTRA.

To bring SAG up to parity, the agreement could give SAG its next increase 9 months later (say April 1, 2012), rather than the 12 months that AFTRA will wait. That brings SAG up to parity with AFTRA, but only for the 3 month period until AFTRA’s July 1, 2012 increase kicks in. But then the agreement could give SAG its next increase 9 months after its April 1, 2012 increase – i.e., on January 1, 2013. Now SAG will match AFTRA for a period of 6 months, until AFTRA’s July 1, 2013 increase kicks in. Then, the agreement could give SAG an increase 9 months after its January 1, 2013 increase, i.e., on October 1, 2013. Now SAG will match AFTRA for the remaining 9 months of the contract (i.e., through June 30, 2014). At that point, the unions will stay synchronized, because the 2014-2017 will commence by giving both unions an increase on July 1, 2014.

Now look at the boldface portions of the preceding paragraph: 3 months plus 6 months plus 9 months equals 18 months that SAG will be synchronized with AFTRA. In other words, SAG will be at AFTRA wage levels for half the contract term. That’s a compromise halfway between the current situation, which is no parity, and an approach that gives full parity immediately upon commencement of the 2011 contract. By splitting the difference, SAG’s other priorities would take less of a hit – at a cost, of course, of delaying full parity.

The point of all this is that parity need not be an all or nothing proposition. This approach is a way to incrementally restore parity. And, by varying the 9 months in my example, the tradeoff between time to parity and cost of parity can be tuned to whatever negotiators deem appropriate.

A different approach would be to give SAG its increases at one year intervals, just like AFTRA, but to give SAG larger increases than AFTRA receives, such that by the end of the contract term, SAG is at the same level as AFTRA. Here again, the approach can be tuned, but perhaps not as precisely, since SAG would have to reach parity in exactly 3 years, 2 years or 1 year.

Framework for Joint Bargaining

Moving on from math, let’s talk about joint bargaining. The UFS source pointed out that the jointly-bargained commercials contract was not actually bargained under Phase I, but rather under a freestanding joint bargaining agreement. That agreement includes a non-disparagement agreement that clamped down on anti-AFTRA rhetoric coming from SAG’s hardline Membership First faction.

My source also said that the non-disparagement agreement was essential to the success of those negotiations (and I’m sure AFTRA would agree). Yet, according to the source, it would be difficult to include the non-disparagement clauses in Phase I, since the Phase I agreement is part of SAG’s constitution, meaning that revising Phase I would require jumping through various hoops, such as a 2/3 vote which might not be achievable, given MF’s representation on the board).

The solution? Extending the freestanding joint bargaining agreement to cover the TV/theatrical negotiations, or creating a new such agreement. So, than Phase I, we may see this reboot, or remake, or sequel instead. It’s just like going to the cinema, if your idea of a good movie includes Roberts Rules of Order.

Negotiating Committee

The UFS source told me that the joint negotiating committee would have 50-50 representation from SAG and AFTRA, with equal weight for each member. That’s a given, in that AFTRA would agree to nothing less.

The SAG portion of the committee will have 11 members from Hollywood , 4 from New York and 4 from the Regional Branch Division (i.e., everywhere else). Since the Hollywood Division, which is controlled by MF, appoints the Hollywood members of the Negotiating Committee, does that mean that the partisan split in the Committee will be 11 MF and 8 moderates? Not necessarily. SAG president Ken Howard is a Hollywood member, and it would be very bizarre for MF to refuse to seat him (and, in fact, to refuse to make him chair of the committee).

If Ken Howard gets a seat, that yields a 10 to 9 balance in MF’s favor – but only if MF is determined not to appoint any other moderates (UFS or independents) to the Hollywood contingent on the committee. If MF is not united, or if they fail to bring all of their national board members (or alternates sitting for them) to the Hollywood board meeting, then they may not be able to insist on controlling all 10 seats. The result could be 10 to 9 or so in the moderates’ favor.

In any case, most or all of the AFTRA appointees will likely be moderate in temperament, giving moderate voices a majority on the joint committee. This is what angers MF, and is why they tried in 2007-2008 to modify Phase I to AFTRA’s disadvantage.

As for when the Negotiating Committee would be appointed, the source noted that that wouldn’t happen until AFTRA had responded at its February meeting to SAG’s January initiative (assuming that’s when things play out). SAG’s next national board meeting after AFTRA’s February meeting is in April. So, at that meeting, the SAG national board would create the new Negotiating Committee and ask the divisional boards to appoint their respective members.

For Hollywood, this appointment process would happen at the next monthly Hollywood board meeting, which would probably be the May monthly meeting (it could be the April meeting, depending on when in April the Hollywood and national board meetings fall, but I suspect that the divisional board meetings precede the national board meetings).

Another note re the Negotiating Committee: the old Negotiating Committee – the one that the SAG board disbanded in January 2009 when the moderates acted by written assent (also firing the previous SAG National Executive Director) – well, the old Negotiating Committee actually still exists, or was resurrected, and is now the Standing Negotiating Committee. That’s the committee that administers the contract, granting waivers and such. Also, the Negotiating Task Force (which replaced the Negotiating Committee) still exists, though it’s dormant. In any case, these factoids are apparently of academic interest; a new Negotiating Committee will be appointed for the upcoming negotiations, though obviously some of the members will be the same.

Upcoming Board Meetings

The schedule of national board meetings for SAG and AFTRA is: Jan. 31 (SAG), February 27 (AFTRA), April (SAG), June 10 (AFTRA), Sept. 25 (AFTRA), and Oct. (SAG). Thus, if SAG does not act decisively at its January 31 meeting, a special meeting of the SAG board may be necessary in order for the process to play out so that the Negotiating Committee can be appointed and the W&W begin in a timely fashion.

Will AFTRA Agree to Joint Bargaining? Will the AMPTP?

Ideally, the unions will decide that they should indeed bargain jointly. The last thing the industry, or the unions, need is more uncertainty and inter-union conflict. All that bought last time for SAG was a one year stalemate that got SAG a worse deal than it could have obtained a year earlier, and at a cost of tens of millions of dollars in lost wages due to suspended motion picture production.

Admittedly, the suspension of Phase I did help AFTRA become viewed by the industry as a more significant player than in the past. Also, AFTRA feels burned by SAG’s actions towards it in 2007-2008 (again, this was under a previous SAG administration). Thus, AFTRA is likely to require a significant degree of reassurance from SAG that despite SAG’s still messy politics, a SAG commitment to joint bargaining would be honored. Making things even more difficult, reviving joint bargaining will require that neither union feels it is apologizing for the 2008 breakdown. It’s an extremely delicate dance.

There’s also the question of whether the AMPTP will agree to negotiate jointly, since (as far as I can tell) they don’t have to. They’ll almost certainly agree though: doing otherwise would look like the organization was actively seeking labor discord. In addition, since the AMPTP has generally found AFTRA easier to deal with, why wouldn’t they want them in the room with SAG? After all, the AMPTP engaged in joint bargaining under Phase I for 27 years. Also, separate bargaining could (and probably would) result in different contract proposals, further complicating negotiations.

Will the Early Negotiations Result in an Early Deal?

Early negotiations are one thing, but an early deal is another. SAG doesn’t have a history of reaching early agreement. However, another factor is the DGA. Their contract doesn’t expire until mid-2011 (concurrent with SAG and AFTRA Ex. A, and just two months after the WGA), but they like to negotiate early. If SAG doesn’t reach an agreement during this fall’s early negotiations, which end November 15, then the holidays pretty much ensure that there will be no further negotiating opportunities until January.

At that point, the DGA may step in and do its deal – just as it did in January 2008, after the WGA failed to do a deal (and remained on strike) in fall 2007. In other words, SAG has a chance to set the template, but only if it reaches an early agreement. Let’s hope it does, since otherwise we may see stockpiling of motion pictures (i.e., accelerated production) in early 2011, followed by a disruptive slowdown (i.e., a de facto strike or de facto lockout).

What about the WGA?

Speaking of the WGA, what role are they likely to play this time? It’s too early to predict with confidence. On the one hand, WGA members last year elected a new, more moderate president, are unlikely to want a second strike, and were never as dissatisfied with the new media deal as SAG was and probably still is. On the other hand, the WGA board is still under control of former president Patric Verrone and his allies (though who knows whether this might change in the fall) and the executive director is still David Young. With SAG negotiating in fall of this year, and the DGA negotiating most likely in January or so of 20111, I’m guessing the WGA will play a less central role this time around, but that could easily change.

The SAG Elections

Add this to the mix: Late summer and fall will bring the SAG elections, which make people even more irritable than the Santa Ana winds that arrive concurrently – though, thankfully, not as irritable as Raymond Chandler famously described in Red Wind: “On nights (when Santa Anas blow) every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.” On the positive side, notes Chandler (and brushing past the quaint sexism of days gone noir), “you can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”

In any case, those elections will no doubt be a referendum on the upcoming negotiations. Indeed, in a case of awkward timing, the new board will likely be seated in late September, just days before the early negotiations are set to start. That could be a bit disruptive. However, as with last year, the only national board members in Hollywood whose terms are up are from Membership First, since the UFS members (and moderate Morgan Fairchild) were elected in 2008 to 3 year terms. Thus, on the national board, MF can only lose ground or, at most, hold their current numbers. On the Hollywood board, the possibilities are more wide open, but given UFS’s commanding results in the 2009 elections, it’s quite possible MF will lose ground there as well.

What Else Will AFTRA be Doing?

In another quirk of scheduling, the AFTRA daytime agreement expires November 15 of this year. That’s the portion of the AFTRA agreement that AFTRA always negotiates solo, without SAG. AFTRA will probably want to negotiate starting in September as it has in the past, or perhaps a bit earlier in order to avoid bumping up against the Oct. 1 start date for SAG negotiations. Either way, AFTRA will be in the negotiating room before SAG (indeed, while SAG is still preoccupied with its elections).

There’s yet another wrinkle to this: the daytime agreement has new media sideletters that are similar to the new media sideletters for the AFTRA primetime agreement (and SAG, WGA and DGA agreements). Thus, since AFTRA will presumably be negotiating before SAG, then AFTRA daytime negotiators may be discussing new media issues before SAG does, just as was the case in 2008, in fact.

This timing may give AFTRA a first cut at revisions to the new media deal – a fact that’s unlikely to sit well with the Membership First faction of SAG, just as it didn’t in 2008. Of course, it’s also possible that AFTRA will defer a discussion of new media until October 1, if the two unions are bargaining jointly.

(BTW, I’m using “daytime agreement” as a convenient shorthand. The gory details are as follows: AFTRA has one contract that’s relevant here, called the Network Code, or “Net Code” to its friends. Exhibit A of the Net Code deals with primetime programs, and was jointly negotiated with SAG’s TV/theatrical agreements for several decades until the last negotiating cycle. The “front of the book” portions of the Net Code (i.e., most everything other than Exhibit A) deal with daytime dramas (soap operas) and other areas in which there’s no overlap with SAG and is always negotiated by AFTRA alone. Most of the guild agreements now have two sideletters relating to new media, but the Net Code has four such sideletters, of which two relate to the front of the book and two to Ex. A, although the distinction is actually rather murky.)

What Else Will SAG Discuss at its January Board Meeting?

The UFS source gave me a preview of likely subjects at the January board meeting. In addition to SAG-AFTRA joint bargaining, they include:

(1) Revising the SAG-AFTRA non-disparagement agreement so that supporters of candidates for SAG or AFTRA board can speak freely about the other union without the possibility that the supporter’s union would be sanctioned for disparagement. Currently, the non-disparagement agreement includes such an exemption for the candidates themselves, but statements by their supporters during an election do not have this protection.

(2) Amending the procedure for written assent so that the assent would have to be circulated to all board members, not just those who agree with the assent (which was the approach the moderates took with the January 2009 written assent).

(3) Reducing the initiation fee for actors who join one of SAG’s regional branches rather than LA or New York .

——

That’s a full agenda, considering that it’s a one-day video meeting rather than a two-day in-person confab.

The Corporate SAG

Now for something unexpected: a situation that puts SAG behind the looking glass, this time sitting on the management side of the table. That will happen this year, because some portion of the SAG staff is itself unionized, and is represented by Teamsters Local 986. In that context, SAG is actually management. About 50 SAG staff are members, and the Teamsters representation dates back to February 2001. Interestingly, it took five or six months to achieve a contract, and a strike authorization vote was necessary.

In any case, the contract run for 3 years, and this iteration expires June 1. Negotiations have sometimes been difficult in the past – at one point, staffers worked without a contract while negotiations continued for three months past expiration.

Certainly this round of negotiations have the potential to be bumpy, in light of the economy generally and, more particularly, the layoffs imposed by the union in 2009. Also aggravating the situation from staffers’ point of view are the significant pay increases that some guild execs received in 2008 (at a time, it should be noted, when the guild was under different leadership).

One question this history raises is whether the represented employees will get the typical 3% annual increases. My guess is probably so (after all, SAG itself secured 3.5% increases for its members). A harder issue is whether the Teamsters will push for a No Layoffs clause. I’m guessing they will. It’s a tough stance for a union to take in this economy, but the Teamsters have leverage by virtue of the calendar: SAG (as employer) can ill-afford to let the 986 contract expire and then be in a labor dispute with its own staff into the early fall as negotiations between SAG (as a union) and the AMPTP bear down. The PR fallout would be too unpleasant.

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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.

December 8, 2009

SAG, AFTRA FACE DEADLINE

SAG, AFTRA face deadline
Unions must decide soon if they are to negotiate together
By DAVE MCNARY

The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists are facing a looming deadline within the next few months if they’re going to negotiate together on the primetime-feature contract with the majors.
The performers unions haven’t yet taken any formal steps toward joint bargaining, even with SAG obligated to begin seven weeks of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers on Oct. 1. The current SAG and AFTRA master contracts — negotiated separately for the first time in three decades — both expire on June 30, 2011.

AFTRA president Roberta Reardon has held informal discussions recently with SAG prexy Ken Howard about the issue. She admitted that a decision by AFTRA will probably be made before the end of the first quarter, given that both unions require several months for a “wages and working conditions” process of meetings with members to hammer out contract proposals prior to the start of bargaining.

“We’ve had a lot of internal discussion about joint negotiations but we haven’t formalized anything,” she told Daily Variety. “We would do it if it were something that’s to the advantage of all our members.”

SAG declined to comment on Reardon’s statements.

Reardon noted that AFTRA’s also facing looming expirations on two of its other major contracts — sound recordings, which expires June 30; and network code, which ends on Nov. 15. The AFTRA netcode pact covers about $400 million in annual earnings from dramatic programs in syndication or outside primetime, daytime serial dramas, gameshows, talkshows, variety and musical programs, news, sports, reality shows and promotional announcements.

“We have a little bit of a pileup in terms of scheduling,” Reardon added.

She also said that no definitive steps have been taken toward a SAG-AFTRA merger, voted down by SAG members in 1999 and 2003, indicating that combining the unions remains a long-term goal. “I got into AFTRA politics eight years ago because I believe that performers should be in a single union, but if we’re going to do that, we need to take the time to do it right,” she added.

Relations between SAG and AFTRA hit a low early last year when AFTRA angrily split off from joint negotiations over jurisdiction and reached its own primetime deal. SAG — which still hadn’t shifted control to the moderates — then blasted terms of the pact, which had a relatively low 62% ratification. With SAG not reaching a deal until a year later, AFTRA was able to sign up the lion’s share of this year’s TV pilots that were shot digitally.

In the fall of 2008, AFTRA and SAG agreed to a separate deal aimed at ending the bickering between the unions. Brokered by the AFL-CIO, the agreement included “nondisparagement” language along with fines and other discipline for violators; the unions then agreed to joint negotiations on the commercials contract and reached a new three-year deal with the ad industry last spring.

But the enmity toward AFTRA remains strong in some SAG quarters. Its Hollywood board passed a resolution in May to explore the “acquisition” of actors repped through AFTRA, leading to an AFL-CIO umpire warning SAG it would face “severe” fines for any further discussions of an “acquisition” and ordering the guild to officially disavow the statement.

SAG’s Membership First faction, which controls the Hollywood board, staunchly opposes any merger and contends that SAG should represent all acting work. Howard campaigned as the head of the Unite For Strength ticket, which explicitly advocates combining the unions.

“We should merge to create a single powerful union that covers all the work we do, making it impossible for our employers to divide us,” the faction has noted. “That’s what Unite for Strength is all about.”

SAG and AFTRA have shared jurisdiction over primetime series and the long-standing agreement has been that SAG reps all projects shot on film, while SAG and AFTRA have an equal shot at projects shot electronically. With more primetime skeins shot in high-def digital formats, AFTRA’s electronic purview has greatly expanded in the past two years as nearly all primetime pilots went AFTRA.

http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118012309.html?categoryId=13&cs=1

November 19, 2009

Sounds of Silence DML

Filed under: Entertainment — showbizreporting @ 3:11 pm
Tags: , ,

No More Sounds of Silence on the Music Composition Front?

Everyone knows that composers and lyricists makes scales … now they want to make scale as well. Union scale, that is (or, even better, above scale). One of the few non-unionized sectors of Hollywood, composers and lyricists – the people who write music (as opposed to musicians, the people who perform it) – are now in talks with the Teamsters for representation.

It’s not as strange as it seems: the macho union of dock workers and Hollywood truck drivers (Teamsters Local 399 on the West coast and Local 817 in New York) also represents casting directors, location managers, and various other tenderfoots. An earlier bid to join the Writers Guild (WGA) apparently gained little traction.

All this according to recent pieces in Variety (here and here) and a long piece today in the LA Times. An early-stage meeting Monday, supported by the Society of Composers & Lyricists (a trade group, not a union) attracted a massive 400 person attendance, almost half the 900 people who would be covered by a union agreement, according to an estimate by Teamsters organizer Steve Dayan.

In other audible union news, AFTRA recently approved its interactive (i.e., video game) voiceover contract, while SAG voted down its similar pact, representing a rare defeat for SAG’s new administration. Despite concerns with some aspects of the contract, that’s unfortunate for SAG, because I’m told this sector is only about 25% unionized (AFTRA numbers + SAG’s). That means that video game companies can easily move over to AFTRA – or go nonunion. The hard reality is that neither SAG nor AFTRA control the labor supply in this area, leaving them little leverage in negotiations. Sort of like bringing a PS2 to a PS3 meetup.

In still other news on the union front – sorry, I’ve been busy prepping for my UCLA gig, not to mention working for a living – the California Court of Appeals dismissed as moot an appeal by former SAG president Alan Rosenberg and his fellow Membership First plaintiffs newly-reelected 1st VP Anne-Marie-Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord of their suit against their own union. This cacophony lives on in the lower court, however, still costing the union money, but there’s some hope that that court will adopt the appeals court’s underlying reasoning and dismiss the entire proceeding on the same basis. Let’s hope.

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October 27, 2009

Variety: SAG stats- Diversity Lags

SAG stats: Diversity lags
Minorities, seniors, females underrepresented

By DAVE MCNARYMore Articles:

Minorities, seniors and female actors have achieved few gains in recent years in the number of film and TV roles they receive, according to casting stats released by the Screen Actors Guild.

“The diverse and multicultural world we live in today is still not accurately reflected in the portrayals we see on the screen,” SAG president Ken Howard said in a statement. “We will continue to work with producers, hiring executives and industry professionals in accurately portraying the American scene by ensuring equal access to employment opportunities for all of our members.”

The latest statistics, released Friday, showed minority performers reached a high mark in 2007, with 29.3% of total roles, and then declined last year to 27.5%.

The breakdown of film and TV roles for 2008 was 72.5% Caucasian, 13.3% African-American, 6.4% Latino-Hispanic, 3.8 Asian-Pacific Islander, 0.3% Native American and 3.8% other-unknown. SAG noted in its report that U.S. Census data from 2000 showed that the nation’s population was 73.4% Caucasian, 11.5% African-American, 10.6% Latino-Hispanic, 3.7% Asian-Pacific Islander and 0.8% Native American.

Producers who are signatory to SAG contracts are required to submit hiring data in order to examine the trends of “traditionally underemployed and disenfranchised members.”

SAG also noted that people with disabilities remain “virtually invisible” in casting even though 20% of the U.S. population has a disability.

SAG, AFTRA, Actors Equity and the WGA held the inaugural Hollywood Disabilities Forum at UCLA on Saturday.

The report noted that male actors continue to fill the majority of roles, especially in the supporting category, with about two roles for every female role.

The picture did improve slightly for older thesps.

Roles have increased for males 40 and over, with film parts up from 40% in 2006 to 43% in 2008, while TV roles increased from 40% to 42% in that period; roles for females 40 and over rose in film and TV from 26% in 2006 to 28% last year.

SAG also said that Asian-Pacific thesps were the only minority group to gain from 2007 to 2008, increasing from 3.4% to 3.8%, thanks to gains in TV.

http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118010361.html?categoryid=1055&cs=1

AFTRA and SAG Approve Extension of Contracts Covering Non-Broadcast, Industrial and Educational Agreements

AFTRA and SAG Approve Extension of Contracts Covering Non-Broadcast, Industrial and Educational Agreements
Posted October 15, 2009

LOS ANGELES (Oct. 15, 2009) – The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and Screen Actors Guild announced today that the AFTRA Administrative Committee and Screen Actors Guild National Board of Directors have approved an 18-month extension to the AFTRA Code of Fair Practice for Non Broadcast/Industrial/Educational Recorded Material and the SAG Industrial and Educational Contract. The contracts, which were set to expire on Oct. 31, 2009, will now be effective Nov. 1, 2009, to April 30, 2011.

In addition to the extended term, the agreement includes a 0.5% increase in employer contributions to the AFTRA Health and Retirement Funds and the Screen Actors Guild-Producers Pension and Health Plans, effective Nov. 1, 2009, and an important clarification that work produced under the contracts is not and never has been intended for the production of commercials.

Roberta Reardon, AFTRA National President praised the extension saying: “Work under the Non-Broadcast/Industrial Code rarely grabs headlines or elevates performers to celebrity status. It does something far more important: it provides steady employment for thousands of union members in small and large markets across the nation. This extension will keep our members working, increase their opportunities to qualify for health and retirement benefits and will permit our unions the opportunity to organize more work for more members under this contract.”

Screen Actors Guild National President Ken Howard said, “These contracts are critical to our members across the country and extending them gives us the opportunity to strategize ways to increase covered work under the agreements. The successful extension of the Industrial and Educational Contract directly reflects the continued importance of joint bargaining and allows our members to continue to work under a fair contract for the next year and a half, and with a bump to their pension and health.”

“The increase in employer contributions to our health and retirement plans, along with the confirmation by the industry that the Non-Broadcast Code cannot be used for commercial production are important achievements in this extension agreement,” said Mathis L. Dunn, Jr., Chief Negotiator for AFTRA.

“We’re glad to have achieved this extension jointly with AFTRA and look forward to joint negotiations again on the Industrial and Educational Contract in 2011,” said Ray Rodriguez, the Screen Actors Guild deputy national executive director who oversees contracts.

The extension agreement was negotiated by both unions under the terms of the AFL-CIO facilitated Joint Commercials Contracts Negotiating Agreement, which governs the bargaining and administration of the 2009-2012 Commercials contracts, and was expanded earlier this summer to cover the 2009 negotiation of the AFTRA Non-Broadcast/Industrial Contract and the SAG Industrial and Educational Contract. The Chief Negotiator for the Industry Lee W. Gluckman Jr., who represented the employers in the negotiations said, “This extended agreement will quite beneficial to producers and their clients in growing production. The ‘no commercials here’ clarification is also an important addition to the contract.”

The SAG and AFTRA contracts cover performers rendering on-camera and voiceover services in sales programs, educational and training videos, informational and promotional messages seen in stores and video included in certain consumer products, and other projects that are exhibited outside of the traditional broadcast arena (with AFTRA’s contract also covering audio-only content, such as telephone messages and sound included in consumer products).

October 21, 2009

Every Actor Should Know

Every Actor Should Know
Posted on October 20, 2009, 1:41 PM, by WW, under Media Business.

If someone says they’re an agent and then asks you to pay up front for them to represent you, there’s only one word to come back with: NO!

In fact, in California, it’s now illegal to ask for an advance fee for representing talent. AFTRA is out with a statement thanking Gov. Schwarzenegger for signing the new law.

LOS ANGELES (October 20, 2009)—The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) today praised the signing of a new California State law designed to address the problem of abusive business practices and fraud that plague the advance-fee talent industry.

On October 11, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Assembly Bill 1319, Talent Services, which prohibits advance-fee talent services from charging money upfront and then attempting to procure employment for their clients. The new law, which was supported by AFTRA, also divides permissible advance-fee services into three categories (talent listing, talent counseling and talent training services) and enacts stricter regulations for all of them, including the requirement to post a $50,000 bond with the State and mandating the use of contracts that are clear and easy to understand.

“We are extremely pleased that the Governor has signed this bill into law,” said AFTRA National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth. “We are proud to have supported this legislation that will greatly benefit both the public and our members who work in the entertainment and media industries. Performers – and young performers, in particular – are especially vulnerable to scam artists and predatory business practices that fraudulently exploit their aspirations and talents. This new law will help regulate the advance-fee talent services that often cause both monetary loss and severe emotional distress to their victims and their families. We applaud State Assembly Member Paul Krekorian for introducing AB 1319, and we express our appreciation to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office for working closely with us on this bill to address the concerns of AFTRA members.”

The new law also includes provisions to regulate Internet activities of various businesses (previous advance-fee legislation only covered print), and requires the insertion of language into performer contracts that states these services are not permitted to procure employment for the performer, and that function is limited only to licensed talent agents.

The bill was introduced by Assembly Member Paul Krekorian (D-Burbank) in February 2009.

SAG has announced a news conference on the subject:

Who: Ken Howard, Screen Actors Guild National President
David White, Screen Actors Guild National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator
Assemblymember Paul Krekorian
Deputy Los Angeles City Attorney Mark Lambert;
Gary Almond, Director of Operations, the Better Business Bureau, Los Angeles;
Anne Henry, Co-founder, Biz Parents;
Pamm Fair, Screen Actors Guild Deputy National Executive Director
Zino Macaluso, Screen Actors Guild National Director, Agency Relations
Casting directors, non profit groups, parents and children who will benefit from legislation

When: 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Where: Screen Actors Guild National Headquarters
SAG Actors Center, Mezzanine Level
5757 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Parking will be validated

http://www.sagwatch.net/2009/10/every-actor-should-know/

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