Showbizreporting's Blog

October 20, 2009

Carol Lombardini to top AMPTP

Carol Lombardini to top AMPTP
Org names new president
By DAVE MCNARY

Lombardini_carol

The key players for the next round of guild contract talks are now in place. With another complex set of labor negotiations looming, the majors opted for stability by promoting Carol Lombardini to prexy of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. Her appointment comes eight months after Nick Counter announced his retirement following nearly 30 years as the majors’ top labor negotiator.
Lombardini is likely to face a much different dynamic in the next round of talks than she and Counter experienced in the last round, when the WGA went on strike for 100 days and SAG took a year to close its feature-primetime deal.
Presidential elections at the WGA West and SAG last month ushered in regime changes and leaders who have vowed to tone down the confrontational rhetoric that characterized the 2007-08 contract talks.
Still, the guilds and AMPTP will have to grapple with issues regarding new-media compensation, as they evaluate the residual formulas that were introduced in the most recent contracts. They’ll also likely have to address shortcomings in the guild-sponsored health and pension plans, which have been battered by the economic downturn.
The AMPTP is contractually bound to begin negotiations with SAG this time next year for the successor to the contract that expires June 30, 2011, as does the DGA deal. The WGA’s pact expires two months earlier.
Lombardini has been involved in more than 300 negotiations during a 27-year career at the AMPTP. She’s been acting prexy since Counter’s departure in March.
In the end, Lombardini was the unanimous choice among the AMPTP member companies following interviews with half a dozen candidates. Sony Pictures topper Michael Lynton, Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Barry Meyer and NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker made up the committee that oversaw the selection process.
Lombardini, viewed as more low-key than Counter, has specialized in the drafting and interpretation of contract language, while Counter focused on negotiations and strategy — a complex task given the different priorities for the congloms that dominate the AMPTP.
“I look forward to leading the AMPTP as the businesses of our member companies evolve,” Lombardini said. “I am also committed to building on my longstanding relations with our bargaining partners across the entertainment industry. The most important challenge we face is finding ways for the companies and guilds and unions to reach agreements that do everything possible to keep the business vital.”
Counter was able to maintain labor peace in Hollywood for much of his tenure at the AMPTP but became a much-vilified figure during the WGA’s walkout. Counter’s stance on new media and strategy of pursuing the controversial notion of shifting all residual formulas to a recoupment-based blueprint was widely viewed as helping solidify the resolve of WGA members to support the strike.
Studio honchos have been pleased with recent political developments within the unions. SAG has seen its leadership tilt toward a more moderate stance in the past two elections, as illustrated by Ken Howard’s appointment as prexy last month. John Wells took the reins of the WGA West, a move seen as a vote by scribes to tap into his biz relationships and experience in contract negotiations.
When Counter announced his retirement in February, the AMPTP employed a search firm that interviewed about a dozen candidates. It’s understood that Lomdardini emerged as the favorite due to her extensive background in hammering out the nuances of the labor agreements.
“She has a proven track record as a negotiator, deep knowledge of labor issues and excellent relationships throughout the industry with guilds, unions and the member companies alike,” Meyer said in a statement.
Lombardini, an attorney by training, has served as general counsel; VP of legal affairs; senior VP of legal and business affairs; and exec VP of legal and business affairs.

http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118009982.html?categoryId=13&cs=1

September 25, 2009

SAG Election Results are in!

SAG elects Ken Howard president
Amy Aquino chosen as secretary-treasurer
By Jay A. Fernandez

Sept 24, 2009, 10:24 PM ET

Updated: Sept 24, 2009, 11:10 PM ET
There are surely more conflicts to come, but the Screen Actors Guild membership on Thursday night settled a big one: Ken Howard has been elected the union’s new national president.

Running mate Amy Aquino beat two-time incumbent Connie Stevens in the race for secretary-treasurer. Howard and Aquino will serve two-year terms beginning Friday.

For the moment, at least, the outcomes indicate that a winning 47.2% of the voting segment of SAG’s roughly 120,000 members prefers the less strident approach of the self-styled moderate wing of the party represented by Unite for Strength.

Howard collected 12,895 votes, or 3,989 more than MembershipFirst candidate Anne-Marie Johnson, who received 32.6% of the 27,295 votes cast. Independents Seymour Cassel and Asmar Muhammad garnered 17.7% and 1.5%, respectively, in their bid for the presidency.

UFS came together last year in opposition and in January led a boardroom coup at SAG, installed new negotiators and salvaged a deal with Hollywood producers nearly a year after sister union AFTRA had ratified its own contract. Johnson is part of a separate coalition, Membership First, that was shunted to the board’s minority and saw its leader, president Alan Rosenberg, muzzled on most official guild business.

Howard, who picked up an acting Emmy on Sunday for his role in HBO’s “Grey Gardens,” campaigned on bringing a more collaborative approach to relationships with AFTRA, the DGA and WGA. Segments of those groups were alienated by the often-heated rhetoric of Rosenberg and 1st national vp Johnson.

“I campaigned on the promise that I’d do everything in my power to strengthen our position at the bargaining table by building a greater unity with AFTRA and the other entertainment unions, and that’s exactly what I intend to do,” Howard said. “Despite the sharp differences that those of us active in guild affairs sometimes have over strategy and tactics, we need to continually remind ourselves that we’re all on the same team, fighting for the same thing — and by pulling together, we’ll only grow stronger.”

UFS expanded the narrow majority it established on the 71-member national board in the September 2008 elections. The next Hollywood board meeting with newly seated members is scheduled for Oct. 5.

In concert with the national result, Mike Hodge was elected president of SAG’s New York branch, succeeding Sam Freed, who passed the moderate baton to his fellow United Screen Actors Nationwide member.

Hodge defeated Mitchell Green, a SAGNOW partisan affiliated with the more hard-line MembershipFirst faction. USAN, which is affiliated with UFS, has dominated SAG politics in New York in the recent past.

The results seem to reflect an industrywide fatigue resulting from the 2007-08 writers strike and the protracted SAG contract negotiations that ended in June. Last week, the WGA elected John Wells to the top slot over the more hard-line Writers United candidate Elias Davis. The rest of the WGA officers, however, were split with Writers United.

Among the immediate challenges facing Howard are retention of coverage of network pilots and the next round of negotiations for a new TV-theatrical contract. As part of the last deal, SAG agreed to start seven weeks of bargaining with the AMPTP as early as October 2010.

Additionally, the shifting economic and labor landscape has resulted in a looming decrease in benefits and increase in premiums beginning in January as a result of investment losses and decreased employer contributions. The damaged pension and health benefits situation became a political hot potato during the campaign.

Mending fences with sister unions DGA, WGA and AFTRA is a high priority for Howard as well. AFTRA members re-elected Roberta Reardon to the presidency in early August. As a UFS candidate, Howard preached the benefit of a collective approach with AFTRA and its roughly 70,000 members in negotiations with the studios and networks, an approach that was abandoned by the previous SAG regime.

The presence of Cassel in the election surely cost Johnson some votes, since he also remains a stalwart MembershipFirst partisan. Cassel narrowly lost to Rosenberg in the 2007 election, but he was dinged by an internal sexual harassment case against him that became public during this most recent campaign.

The National Board members elected Thursday will assume office Friday for terms of three years.

SAG’s Hollywood Division elected 11 National Board members; the New York division elected four National Board members; and seven National Board members were elected from the union’s branches in Chicago, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Philadelphia, Portland and San Diego.

National Board members elected from the Hollywood Division in addition to Sheen, Harris, Johnson, Stevens and Ladd were Elliott Gould, Ed Asner, Dule Hill, Hill Harper, Nancy Travis and Marcia Wallace (all three-year terms).

The following were elected to serve as National Board alternates and to the Hollywood division board (all one-year terms): Rosenberg, Gabrielle Carteris, Jenny O’Hara, Michael O’Keefe, Clyde Kusatsu, Dawnn Lewis, Doug Savant, Michelle Allsopp, D.W. Moffett, Joe Bologna, Robert Hays, Jason George, L. Scott Caldwell, Clark Gregg, Patrick Fabian, Bill Smitrovich, Ellen Crawford, Stacey Travis, Mandy Steckelberg, Renee Taylor, Bernie Casey and John Carroll Lynch.

National Board members elected from the New York division: Freed, Sharon Washington, Monica Trombetta and Liz Zazzi (all three-year terms).

The following were elected to serve as national board alternates and to the New York division board of directors (all one-year terms): Manny Alfaro, Sheila Head, Marc Baron, Joe Narciso, Jay Potter, Dave Bachman, John Rothman, Kevin Scullin and Justin Barrett.

National Board members elected from the Regional Branch division, all with three-year terms: John Carter Brown (Chicago), David Hartley-Margolin (Colorado), Dave Corey (Florida), Scott Rogers (Hawaii), Helen McNutt (Philadelphia), Mary McDonald-Lewis (Portland) and Don Ahles (San Diego).

Ballots for all eligible SAG members in Hollywood and New York were mailed on Aug. 25.

September 20, 2009

DML SAG President

SAG Presidential Candidate: I’ll Seek Strike Authorization Next Year if Elected

Posted: 19 Sep 2009 02:18 PM PDT

In an open conference call today, SAG VP and presidential candidate Anne-Marie Johnson said she will seek a strike authorization next year, before the mandated early negotiations next fall, if she’s elected. She argued that that’s what’s needed to gain bargaining leverage and added that she’s “confident” the SAG membership would vote Yes, especially after the guild conducts an educational outreach campaign during its wages and working conditions (W&W) meetings with members.

Johnson added that some people say her Membership First faction is strike happy. She denied that, but said that union members would feel the impact of new media defects in the existing contract before the negotiations next fall, and added that she thought at least 75% of the board will support a strike authorization. She also argued that the sunset clause in the contract, which calls for blank-slate renegotiation of the new media provisions, is “not worth the paper its written on.” That’s seems to be a signal that she thinks a strike will be necessary to force renegotiation.

In an email interview with me, Ned Vaughn, spokesman and board candidate on the moderate Unite for Strength slate, responded as follows:

How we address a strike authorization depends on what we see headed into the negotiations. It’s my firm belief that we must negotiate the next TV/Theatrical contract jointly with AFTRA, so it’s not a decision that would be made unilaterally. That said, the sole focus of Unite for Strength is increasing performers’ bargaining power, so if a strike authorization is needed, we would certainly support it.

I also spoke with an AMPTP spokesman, but he declined comment, explaining that the AMPTP (studio/producers alliance) never comments on guild internal affairs or elections. For the same reason, he declined to comment on last week’s election of moderate candidate John Wells at the WGA.

It’s my sense that Johnson may be at least partially right – i.e., that the union’s board would support a strike authorization, albeit not unanimously. Whether the membership would also is a harder question, since next fall is only a year and half after the end of the devastating Membership First-led SAG stalemate which cost members an estimated $85 million in lost wages, and followed a devastating WGA strike.

In any case, there’s no doubt that the union has a lot of unfinished business in the upcoming round of negotiations. Compromises that were reasonable or necessary in this past round may become less so as new media advances.

For example, move-over residuals (for reruns on the Internet) are very low, and it seems unreasonably so. If the studios become able to make more money on the Internet, those residuals need to increase, although the Internet’s economics are unlikely to ever support the lucrative level of prime-time network residuals, which can range from approximately $800 to $3,200 (or $3,500? I don’t have my SAG agreement close at hand). All content companies – management, in other words – are being squeezed by technology, and labor is not exempt.

When will the studios become able to make significant money on the Internet? That depends in part on how far new media advances and becomes able to replace network and cable TV not just for young people viewing content on their PC’s, but also the general population who prefer to watch content on the big screen TVs they’ve purchased.

My own experience is instructive. I just bought a new flat-screen TV, a 42” LG 42LH50. It’s an Internet-capable model that just came out 6 months ago, and CNET says it has the most advanced Internet capabilities of any TV they’ve reviewed.

Yet, I got a ridiculously great deal. (Trust me, you don’t want to know.) That, of course, is a reflection on how poorly consumer electronics are selling in this economy, which means that we’re a long ways away from lots of people buying Internet-capable TVs. The technology now makes it possible, but the economics don’t yet make it a practical reality.

Now, the TV can play anything available on YouTube or Yahoo. It can even Twitter (how weird) and do other cool stuff, such as play AP news videos, no doubt to the detriment of network news programs, which survive, if at all, on advertising revenues based on viewership. Every content creator is in trouble in the new media world.

So does my new TV’s Internet capabilities mean I can stop watching conventional TV? No. Not only does it not get Hulu or other network websites such as CBS.com, even the YouTube and Yahoo it does get are unusable. That’s because there’s no keyboard, just a remote, so to search for a video, you have to painstakingly press keys multiple times, just like texting on a non-smart phone. It’s even worse, because the keypad on the remote isn’t as usable as a cellphone keypad: it’s not as firm and doesn’t click. And then you get 17,000 hits and how are you going to sort through that?

So, the technology isn’t here yet in a practical sense, even for those who can afford the newest or are lucky enough to score a great deal. But the day is certainly coming. Business models are still shifting, and we might see the shift to new media retarded by pay walls around content or by add-on charges from ISPs (cable companies and telco’s) levied on people who watch large quantities of bandwidth hogging streaming or downloaded media.

In any case, the unions will be under enormous pressure to get improvements in the new media deal, even with the election this week of the moderate Wells at the WGA and the likely election of Ken Howard, the moderate Unite for Strength candidate for SAG president. Let’s hope that the studios and AMPTP recognize that next year is the time to deal with deferred business and negotiate in a more moderate fashion, or we may see a joint SAG-WGA (and possibly AFTRA) strike.

Now let’s return to that conference call. The first question is, what if you gave a conference call open to all SAG members and nobody came? That’s essentially what happened to Membership First – twice. Last week’s call had about 16 callers at most during the call. Today’s maxed out at about the same. (The call-in system announced the number of callers, and I checked repeatedly.)

And let’s look at that 16 number. Deduct 4 candidates (see next paragraph), me, at least one anti-MFer that I know of (lets say there were 2 or so), assume a couple of planted MF partisans (it’d be silly not to plant a few people) and that leaves at best 7 undecideds. What a fizzle.

Most of the prepared questions, and most of the ones asked on the calls, were softballs, many of which included pro-MF statements as the premise of the question. Most of the answers, from Johnson and MF board candidates Charles Shaughnessy, Erik-Anders Nilsson and Jordana Capra, were unsurprising and generally reiterated statements MF has made publicly before.

The newsworthy stuff in addition to the above? In last week’s call, Johnson said she was paying her own legal fees in the long-running, counter-productive suit she, outgoing SAG president Allen Rosenberg and SAG board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord brought against their own union. (How bizarre that she’s sued the union she now seeks to lead.)

That appears to contradict Rosenberg ’s statement three months ago that he was receiving legal services pro-bono. Johnson also said she wouldn’t bring a motion to have her legal fees reimbursed. However, she didn’t address the likely possibility that another Membership First board member will, nor did she say she would refuse a check if offered. She acknowledged that the lawsuit has cost SAG $170,000 so far, but made no mention of the legal fees she and the other plaintiffs have incurred.

In a separate matter, Johnson claimed that she never said she would fire interim National Executive Director David White if elected, contrary to my report last week. However, she then essentially contradicted herself and confirmed my understanding, by saying there would be a search committee appointed and White could be a candidate if he wished. It sure doesn’t sound like Johnson wants White in the job permanently, and I suspect Doug Allen might be brought back, notwithstanding Johnson’s quasi-denial that I reported last week.

In an out of left field question, someone asked whether pro wrestlers should be allowed to join SAG. Johnson answered that they would have to if they were in a film, but that pro wrestling matches, because they are shot in sequence (i.e., in the manner of live shows), would potentially be under AFTRA jurisdiction, and so the question should be directed at that union. But why not allow wrestlers to join anyway? The current SAG election is a slam-down, so they’d fit right in.

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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.

June 17, 2009

Digital Media Law: Independent New Media Productions

Independent New Media Productions

There are casting notices out there for SAG new media productions under the “SAG New Media Contract.” A few notes may help clarify what these are, and help performers enforce a few of their rights.

First, this is not the new media sideletter recently negotiated with the AMPTP (major studios) as part of the theatrical contract. Rather, it’s a new media contract (the SAG New Media Agreement) that’s been available to independent producers for a number of years—that is, producers who are not signatories to the theatrical and/or agreements. So, disagreements that a performer may have with this agreement simply don’t relate to the compromises in the new TV/theatrical deal.

Second, under sec. 3 of the SAG New Media Agreement, wages are freely bargained by the employer and the performer.

Third, performers should recognize that independent producers are unlikely to make much, if any, money on these productions. Even the studios are shutting down their new media production entities (Stage 9, 60 Frames). And CPMs (advertising rates) for new media are at about $10 rather than $40-$50 (TV) or more, and with viewership on new media much less as well. These two factors, as well as the difficulty of finding any new media distribution at all, mean that independent producers will generally receive very little income from their new media efforts.

Fourth, it’s reasonable for performers to negotiate for back end (a piece of the producer’s gross or net revenues), so that if the producer does make money, so will the performer.

Fifth, when the producer offers to compensate you only in the form of “credit and meals,” or “credit, meals and tape,” that’s illegal. They have to pay you the greater of California minimum wage and federal minimum wage. California’s is higher—$8/hr.

Overtime requirements are more complicated. See complex discussion of exemptions and exceptions (also here) regarding overtime for actors. Also, for workers with less than 160 hours of “employment in occupations in which they have no previous similar or related experience,” the producer can pay 85% of minimum wage. (I don’t know if acting classes count toward the 160 hours, since they’re not employment.)

In any case, if the producer doesn’t pay you the required minimum, you can file a wage claim with the state. You can also call SAG. Although they don’t enforce the minimum wage laws, they may call the producer and suggest that he follow the law.

Sixth, SAG does enforce terms of an agreement between the performer and the producer. So, rather than relying simply on the minimum wage law, it would be a good idea for the performer to include an explicit wage in the SAG new media deal memo with the producer (or a rider), even if the wage is just $8 per hour. SAG would then enforce the agreed wages, meaning that the performer wouldn’t have to rely on the vagaries of the state.

Original made for new media productions are still experimental, and the difficult reality for performers and other talent and workers, above and below the line, as well as their representatives, is that compensation is dramatically lower than in TV and theatrical, just as the revenue for producers is. However, that doesn’t mean that performers shouldn’t insist on some minimums, and hopefully the above suggestions are helpful.

June 10, 2009

Digital Media Law: SAGTV/Theatrical Contract Ratified Overwhelmingly, 78%-22%

Digital Media Law

SAG TV/Theatrical Contract Ratified Overwhelmingly, 78%-22%

In a stunning defeat for the hardline Membership First faction, SAG’s TV/theatrical contract passed overwhelmingly, by a 78%-22% margin (almost 4 to 1), those numbers according to the guild. Variety first reported the story, prior to the guild’s announcement, with a 1% difference in the numbers.

Significantly, even in the faction’s stronghold, the Hollywood division, the vote was an enormous 71% to 29% in favor, or almost 3 to 1. In NY, it was 86% to 14%, and in the regions it was 89% to 11%. There was a large turnout—35% of eligible members voted, far above the typical 20%-25%. The ballots went out to 110,000 paid-up members.

It’s an amazing end to an almost 12 month stalemate, and calls into question the faction’s ability to make any headway in the upcoming SAG board elections. On the contrary, the results suggest that the moderate Unite for Strength faction should make significant gains. That’s because only Membership First will be defending seats in Hollywood , whereas no moderates or independents are up for reelection. Thus, the moderates can only gain, at least in Hollywood . In NY and the regions, Membership First has little support, so, there again, the moderates should prevail.

Another question is the SAG presidency, which is up this year as well. According to Variety, incumbent president Alan Rosenberg announced today that he’ll seek a third term. Given the membership’s overwhelming rejection of his vote No position, that may be an uphill climb, especially if the moderates/independents put forward a high-profile candidate, such as James Cromwell, who has been rumored to be considering a run.

Below are press releases from AFTRA and the AMPTP.

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AFTRA Press Release

AFTRA President Roberta Reardon Applauds SAG Contract Ratification

Los Angeles, CA (June 9, 2009)–In a statement released today, Roberta Reardon, National President of the American Federation of television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), praised the announcement by Screen Actors Guild regarding ratification by SAG members of a new two-year successor agreement to the SAG Basic Agreement and SAG Television Agreement saying:

“On behalf of the more than 70,000 members of AFTRA, I congratulate the members of Screen Actors Guild on their successful ratification of a new television and theatrical agreement. We’re pleased that SAG members will now enjoy improved wages and working conditions, and we applaud their efforts to negotiate a solid new agreement.”

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AMPTP Press Release

Statement by the AMPTP

The ratification vote by SAG members is good news for the entertainment industry. This concludes a two-year negotiating process that has resulted in agreements with all major Hollywood Guilds and Unions. We look forward to working with SAG members – and with everyone else in our industry – to emerge from today’s significant economic challenges with a strong and growing business.

SAG Ratify TV/Theatrical Agreements

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Screen Actors Guild Members Overwhelmingly Ratify TV/Theatrical Agreements


Los Angeles, (June 9, 2009)Screen Actors Guild announced today that members have voted overwhelmingly to approve its TV/Theatrical contracts by a vote of 78 percent to 22 percent.
 
The two-year successor agreement covers film and digital television programs, motion pictures and new media productions. The pact becomes effective at 12:01 a.m. June 10, 2009 and expires June 30, 2011.
 
The contracts provide more than $105 million in wages, increased pension contributions, and other gains and establishes a template for SAG coverage of new media formats.
 
Approximately 110,000 SAG members received ballots of which 35.26 percent returned them – a return that is above average compared with typical referenda on Screen Actors Guild contracts. Integrity Voting Systems of Everett, WA, provided election services and tonight certified the final vote tally upon completion of the tabulation.
 
The vote count in the Hollywood Division was 70.70 percent to 29.30 percent in favor. In the New York Division, the vote count was 85.74 percent to 14.26 percent in favor. And in the Regional Branch Division, the vote count was 89.06 percent to 10.94 percent in favor.
 
Screen Actors Guild President Alan Rosenberg said, “The membership has spoken and has decided to work under the terms of this contract that many of us, who have been involved in these negotiations from the beginning, believe to be devastatingly unsatisfactory. Tomorrow morning I will be contacting the elected leadership of the other talent unions with the hope of beginning a series of pre-negotiation summit meetings in preparation for 2011. I call upon all SAG members to begin to ready themselves for the battle ahead,” Rosenberg added.
 
Screen Actors Guild Interim National Executive Director David White said, “This decisive vote gets our members back to work with immediate pay raises and puts SAG in a strong position for the future. Preparation for the next round of negotiations begins now. Our members can expect more positive changes in the coming months as we organize new work opportunities, repair and reinvigorate our relationships with our sister unions and industry partners, and continue to improve the Guild’s operations.”
 
Screen Actors Guild Chief Negotiator John McGuire said, “I want to thank the SAG members and staff who dedicated their time to the negotiations process. We emerged with a solid deal that the members have now voted up. The negotiating team worked tirelessly, building on the work of the first negotiating committee, to deliver these improvements to members.”
 
Screen Actors Guild began talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on April 15, 2008.  Guild Chief Negotiator John McGuire, Interim National Executive Director David White, and Deputy National Executive Director for Contracts Ray Rodriguez, working with a 10-person negotiating task force comprised of Screen Actors Guild board members and officers representing the three divisions, reached the tentative agreement on April 16, 2009 after 12 months of periodic negotiations with the motion picture studios and television networks.
 
For further information on the new contract, including the full text and a summary of the agreement, click here <http://www.sag.org/tvtheatrical-negotiations> .  

ACTORS RESPOND TO CONTRACT RATIFICATION

Tony Shalhoub, actor
“This is a great decision for SAG and I’m so appreciative of everything the new leadership is doing to put the Guild back on track. They’ve obviously got the right ideas for making SAG stronger.”

Stephen Collins, actor
“This contract passed because members knew it was time to take advantage of the gains our negotiators won and get back to work. On top of that, they understood that risking our ability to negotiate alongside AFTRA and the other unions in the 2011 negotiations would have been a huge mistake.  It’s a great day for SAG.”

Sam Freed, actor, 2nd National Vice President
“This decision by the membership marks the end of a very long process.  We can now move forward with a new sense of certainty.”

Sue-Anne Morrow, actor, National Board Member representing New York
“This is a good deal with good gains. SAG’s members clearly agree. It’s about time we got a raise. I’m so pleased that SAG’s members exercised their right to be heard and said ‘Yes!’.”

Mike Hodge, actor, National Board Member representing New York
“I am extremely pleased that we have finally come to the close of a long, unproductive period. I am hopeful that we can heal our wounds and really start the work to become a unified, national union.”

Nancy Duerr, actor, National Board Member representing SAG Florida Branch
“This is a victory for SAG performers across our region. Stalled and delayed productions can now get underway, boosting our local economies. This contract not only puts more money in members’ pockets, it preserves the high standards of working conditions our members have come to expect.”

Todd Hissong, actor, Chicago Branch President, National Board Member
“By passing this referendum, Chicago members have sent a clear message that we want to get back to work. Screen Actors Guild members across the country have yet again demonstrated our grasp of the issues, the importance of unionism, and our need to stand together with our sister unions to make deals that benefit us all.”

David Hartley-Margolin, Colorado actor, SAG 3rd Vice President
“The membership always has the last word when it comes to contract matters. They have spoken. Their endorsement of the deal with the AMPTP ends the uncertainty that has been hovering over us and allows Screen Actors Guild and the industry to move forward together.”

June 6, 2009

Anne-Marie Johnson

Anne-Marie Johnson, MembershipFirst

June 4, 2009, 09:41 PM ET

THR: What has been the hardest thing for you in getting through the past year?

Anne-Marie Johnson: Saying no to auditions and to jobs, because since February 2008, outside of the relationship with my husband and my friends, this has been the most important thing. I’m glad I have very understanding representatives. And thank God for residuals, because I’ve been able to put full-time work on hold somewhat and work jobs that would allow me to be here.

THR: Have you lost friends or colleagues over this?

Johnson: Yes. But you know what? I don’t worry about it. If you lose friends over something that’s righteous, then they’re not your friends. It’ll be mended when they see, if this contract is ratified, how their earnings capability is cut drastically. They will be coming to me and to others saying, “My God, you were right.”

THR: How has your party’s original agenda changed most in recent years?

Johnson: It’s grown. Our original agenda, our mission statement, hasn’t changed. The involvement, the outreach, the national status of Membership First has certainly changed. But our mission statement, our initial goals have not changed.

THR: Do you honestly believe that an organization of 120,000 or so members, that has a sister union with tens of thousands of overlapping members, will ever come to any real consensus?

Johnson: Sure.

THR: How do you see that happening?

Johnson: If we’re talking about actors seeing eye to eye, represented by both AFTRA and SAG, yes I see that happening. If we’re talking about a standard boilerplate merger, no I don’t see that happening. But if we’re talking about actors, on-screen talent, seeing and speaking the same language and understanding the same needs and concerns, yes I do see that happening.

THR: Do you think SAG would ever split itself into two entities?

Johnson: (laughter) I know that there’s a lot of desire to do that from both coasts.

THR: Do you hear that often?

Johnson: Oh, yes. Quite often. It just comes off in casual conversations. In frustration. I see no upshot in that. It certainly wouldn’t benefit the Screen Actors Guild to have a Screen Actors Guild East and a Screen Actors Guild West. It may work for the Writers Guild. But we also have members in the middle of the country, and in the south and in the north. The majority of writers live either in New York or California. Actors are everywhere. So it would not be beneficial.

THR: In the most succinct and specific terms that you could articulate, what would constitute an acceptable offer in this round of negotiating? Again, acceptable — not ideal.

Johnson: Jurisdiction in new media from the first dollar, which SAG since 2004 assumed jurisdiction anyway. And a percentage of residual payments so when my employer makes money, I make money. If my employer makes no money, I don’t make any money.

THR: You mean across every media in any format.

Johnson: Correct. Obviously, I don’t want to tamper with the formulas that we have had set for decades, the fixed formulas and the pooled formulas. But why should that be any different in new media? Anything that generates income for our employers should generate income for those that are being used for that income to be generated.

THR: When Membership First member Ed Asner compares ratifying the contract to Jews being executed, how can you bemoan the lack of civility on the other side without feeling hypocritical?

Johnson: I don’t bemoan whatever statements are made from the other side if it’s done without the stamp of the Screen Actors Guild. But the last email that was sent out, that accused those who are voting in opposition of trying to trick the members from voting no and trying to bring the union down, and “not having a plan,” that to me is reprehensible. My dues money paid for that message. And not only that, the response from the Screen Actors Guild that they had to send out that email because erroneous claims were being made by the individuals who want you to vote no, well they never stated what mistakes or mistruths we stated in any of our literature! It’s a general statement of “Don’t be fooled…,” “You are being told…”

THR: And you don’t think that’s acceptable?

Johnson: I think it’s acceptable if it’s on the blog.I thought it was from the AMPTP, that email blast! But that was from my union, accusing me of trying to bring my union down.

THR: And you don’t think there’s any legitimacy to that claim when you’re suing the guild?

Johnson: That lawsuit has absolutely nothing to do with this ratification.

THR: Well, it’s not completely tangential.

Johnson: Our lawsuit purely has to do with California law and how a board votes.

THR: Right. But that was a means to an end that played specifically into these contract negotiations, so it’s not unrelated.

Johnson: But it would not have changed the outcome of the vote. It’s how the vote was taken. That’s our challenge. It wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but it certainly would have legitimized the process.

THR: If the contract is passed by the membership, will you and Membership First move on to elections, or will you pursue further legal remedies?

Johnson: No, if the contract is ratified by the membership, the membership has finally spoken and we have to accept that and make sure that the membership is treated with respect and we continue our responsibilities as board members. And Membership First will begin the process of this upcoming election.

THR: Let’s say that it is passed, do you have any thoughts on mending fences? Do you and your adversaries take a retreat together or go to Disneyland?

Johnson: No. None whatsoever. We move ahead.

THR: What’s the most altruistic thing you could attribute to those who disagree with you on this contract issue?

Johnson: All I can say is that anyone who’s hanging their hope on the fact that the AMPTP in 2011 will consent to negotiating with more than one union at a time; that the DGA won’t go in early to set the template for the rest of us to have to deal with as they did this go-around; that IATSE or the WGA or any other union won’t go ahead of us and set what they need to set for their own members; that the miraculous sunset clause will actually benefit the Screen Actors Guild and be honored after the CEOs and the heads of studios and networks have made their millions off of us in this free streaming area of new media. And if anyone thinks that all that’s going to come together in 2011 and the AMPTP’s going to decide, “You know what? You’re right. We have made a good God amount of money on this, we know we’re going to make even more, we’ll give you a percentage,” without some type of strike, then these individuals are truly living in a fantasy world. Does anyone actually believe the DGA gives a flying f*** about background performers? No. Do you think IATSE does? Do you think the Writers Guild does? Their contract expires a couple of months before ours. What are they going to do, hold out until we get our s*** together? It would be possible, but there are a lot of what-ifs. I don’t believe in a lot of these what-ifs. And I certainly do not believe in the perfect storm. Even if there were a perfect storm, I don’t believe our employers are going to give up this goose that will be laying a lot of golden eggs.

THR: What was the last performance or acting job you were hired and paid for?

Johnson: I just finished an independent film two weeks ago. I did before that a SAG low-budget film called “Suicide Dolls” and another movie before that called “Freeloaders.” And I did a movie of the week for Hallmark called “Uncorked.” So I’ve been very busy.

THR: Have you acted in any original content for the Web?

Johnson: No. I’m at that level where I can say no. But you know what? I’m not worried about me. I’m worried about the performer who must say yes. So no, fortunately I’ve dodged that bullet. But the older I get it’s going to be harder and harder for my representatives to keep saying no.

June 5, 2009

A letter from Rosenberg

June 3, 2009

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.

SAG LETTER

Filed under: Entertainment — showbizreporting @ 12:24 pm
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SAG Letter re Force Majeure Claims  (May 13, 2009)

SAG just sent members an email regarding force majeure claims. It’s reprinted below.

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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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DUNCAN CRABTREE-IRELAND

DEPUTY NATIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AND GENERAL COUNSEL

May 12, 2009

Dear SAG Member:

I am writing to update you on the status of certain “force majeure” claims filed on your behalf in relation to compensation owed to you in connection with the 2007-2008 WGA strike. This letter contains important information regarding the settlement of those claims. I urge you to read it carefully and contact the Guild or your professional advisors with any questions. Also, the Guild is hosting informational meetings regarding this settlement proposal for affected series regulars, including one in Hollywood on May 18, 2009 and one in New York on June 1, 2009. Please see the detailed information contained at the end of this letter.

As you know, the 2007-2008 Writers Guild strike resulted, over time, in the suspension of production on many Screen Actors Guild-covered television series, including yours. Shortly after the producers began suspending production on these series, the Guild began initiating claims for certain payments the Guild believes you are entitled to by virtue of the suspension of production during that strike. These claims arise under Section 61(c) of the SAG Television Agreement, which is the provision governing events of force majeure. The term “force majeure,” as used in our collective bargaining agreements, refers to certain events that are considered outside the direct control of the parties, such as natural disasters and strikes. The term is also used to refer to the contract provisions that define each party’s rights and obligations if such an event occurs.

While the Guild’s intention was to settle or arbitrate these claims independently of the recent TV/Theatrical contract negotiations, beginning in April 2008, the producers insisted on including discussion of force majeure issues in the negotiations. Over the past year there have been substantial discussions of the existing force majeure language, changes proposed by both the producers and the Guild, as well as the nature and status of the pending claims. In the weeks immediately preceding the announcement of a tentative agreement between the AMPTP and the Guild, it became clear that many of the producers wished to resolve the pending force majeure caims as part of a global resolution of all the collective bargaining issues between the parties. The Guild’s negotiators took on that challenge and, despite the producers’ demand that the Guild simply withdraw all the claims without payment, our negotiators achieved a settlement of the claims that results in significant payments to series regulars who were affected by the WGA strike.

Before discussing the details of the settlement, you should be aware that the studios and producers vehemently contest these claims. The Guild believes that any suspension of production resulting from a force majeure event automatically triggers the “suspension salary” that is called for by the agreement. The producers believe that there is nothing automatic about it – that instead the contract allows them to decide whether to suspend a performer’s services, and if they don’t affirmatively decide to do that, nothing at all is owed. While I cannot go into a detailed assessment of the merits of those positions due to the ongoing arbitration of these claims, it is critically important to realize that this issue has never before been tested in the history of the contract and there is very significant litigation risk – real risk of loss – in continuing to arbitrate these claims.

As part of the settlement agreement, each studio or producer will make payment to the affected series regulars in the amount of 33.33% of the face value of the suspension salary claims (which is calculated as five weeks at half-salary, or approximately 2½ episodes worth of compensation). The total value of this settlement across all the affected series regulars will be approximately $21.6 million. Each series regular’s compensation paid will depend upon their individual episodic compensation and will vary considerably. You should note that each company has the option to “opt-out” of this settlement on a companywide basis if they do so within 30 days after ratification of the proposed TV/Theatrical agreement. All claims that are not settled because a company opts out will continue to be aggressively pursued by the Guild to arbitration or separate settlement.

This settlement framework is final and has been approved by the Guild’s National Board of Directors, but is conditioned on the ratification of the proposed TV/Theatrical agreement. If for any reason that agreement is not ratified, this settlement will be automatically rescinded and the claims will remain pending and subject to arbitration or other settlement.

Your Guild counsel and negotiators believe that this settlement is both reasonable and appropriate independent of the TV/Theatrical agreement. We believe this for several reasons. First, as I mentioned above, this dispute is based on language that has never been tested before, which means that we have no prior arbitrations or cases that can confirm the validity of the Guild’s position. Second, these claims will be decided by a single arbitrator under the provisions of our arbitration clause, and there is no appeal from that arbitrator’s decision. This means that if we were to lose the case, it is likely there would be no recovery whatsoever, as opposed to substantial real money in actors’ pockets. Both of those factors make this a risky case to pursue when a substantial settlement offer has been made. Third, even if fully successful, resolving the ending claims through arbitration would likely take 18 – 24 months or even longer, during which time our performers would have no payment on their claims at all.

Guild counsel has already begun working with representatives of the producers and studios to prepare to process payments to series regulars as soon as possible after ratification of the TV/Theatrical contract. We will keep in touch with you to ensure that you are kept apprised of the progress of the resolution of these claims and timing of any payments. To further answer your questions and address any concerns, we hope you will attend our meetings for affected series regulars in Los Angeles or New York, the details of which are shown below. For those who are not able to attend one of the meetings, we are also available to discuss the details of the settlement and respond to any of your questions, or those of your agent or attorney, by telephone at your convenience. You or your representative can contact me at (323) 549-6043, or you can contact Deputy General Counsel Will Bensussen at (323) 549-6631 or Assistant General Counsel Russ Naymark at (323) 549-6629. You can also contact us by email at forcemajeure@sag.org. We look forward to speaking with you.

Sincerely yours,

DUNCAN CRABTREE-IRELAND

Deputy National Executive Director and General Counsel

SCHEDULE OF FORCE MAJEURE INFORMATIONAL MEETINGS

Attendance limited to affected series regulars and their agents or attorneys. Please RSVP to Jennifer Heater at (323) 549-6572 or jennifer.heater@sag.org.

LOS ANGELES:

May 18, 2009 at 6:30 p.m.

Mount Olympus Room (located on the 3rd Floor)

The Renaissance Hotel

1755 N. Highland Ave.

Hollywood CA 90028

NEW YORK:

June 1, 2009 at 5:00 pm

NY Board Room,

14th Floor Screen Actors Guild

360 Madison Avenue

New York NY 10017

 

 

 

Massive EU Antitrust Fine Levied Against Intel

 

The European Commission has fined Intel 1.06 billion Euros—about $1.45 billion—for alleged anticompetitive actions against longtime rival AMD and enjoined any future such actions, report Reuters and the NY Times. The fine, a record, is more than double the one imposed on Microsoft in 2004, and 25% larger than a 2008 penalty against a glass maker for price fixing. Intel had no immediate comment, but is expected to appeal. Other tech companies facing EU antitrust scrutiny include Google, Cisco, Microsoft and IBM, with the latter two having actually been charged.

The size of the fine underscores the dominant role European regulators have adopted in antitrust, an area of law that somewhat faded from the U.S. radar screen over the last 30 years, especially during the mostly Republican administrations in that period. That quiescence will change under Obama, according to commentators and the new head of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. In any case, antitrust enforcement is an increasingly global affair and, with antitrust laws in over 100 countries, one wonders whether an international treaty might one day emerge. The political obstacles, however, are probably formidable.

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