Showbizreporting's Blog

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 .

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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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September 20, 2009

DML SAG VP Video

AMJ: If I’m Elected, David White is Out

Posted: 18 Sep 2009 01:26 PM PDT

In a campaign video, Membership First’s candidate for SAG president, Anne-Marie Johnson says that one her first proposals as new president would be to recommend to the national board that “a search committee be seated . . . immediately” to replace SAG interim National Executive Director David White. Ousted NED Doug Allen would “probably” not come back.

That’s the same David White under whose administration (and chief negotiator John McGuire) multiple SAG collective bargaining agreements were finally signed, including the two largest: the TV/theatrical contract, which Membership First stalemated for a year, and the commercials contract, which was delayed by that stalemate. In contrast, Membership First, under the Doug Allen administration, closed no deals at all.

Johnson justifies her position by asserting White has made clear he was solely the interim NED, but that seems misleading: so far as I’m aware, White never said he didn’t want the job on a permanent basis. So far as I’m aware, White has never taken a public position on this one way or the other.

So if AMJ wants White out, would Doug Allen be coming back? Johnson says she has “no idea.” After praising Allen, she goes on the speculate that he’s doing other things and would “probably not be available for the job.”

The video is about 9 minutes long; the discussion of the NED begins about 3 minutes into it and continues for several minutes.

August 8, 2009

Mail for SAG Members

Filed under: Entertainment — showbizreporting @ 1:49 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Message from Interim National Executive Director David White


August 7, 2009
 

Dear Screen Actors Guild member,
 
Ballots for the tentative agreement recently reached on a Basic Cable Live Action successor contract were mailed on Wednesday, August 5, to all eligible members.
 
As you may know, on July 25, 2009, the Screen Actors Guild National Board of Directors voted 95% to 5% to recommend this contract for your approval.
 
Your ballot will be arriving in your mailbox soon and we have also posted the referendum packet online <http://www.sag.org/2009BasicCable.pdf> . Please review the materials and contact us if you have any questions. You can reach us by email at contract2009@sag.org and by telephone at the national contracts hotline at (323) 549-6665.

Please be sure your voice is heard and mail your ballot in the envelope provided in time for it to be received at the post office box in Everett, Washington no later than 5 p.m. PDT on August 26, 2009.
 
In unity and looking forward,
 
 
David White
Interim National Executive Director

June 10, 2009

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 3, 2009

SAG Town Hall Meeting

Report on SAG NY Town Hall Meeting  (June 2,  2009)

 

SAG held a town hall meeting in NY last night to provide information re the TV/theatrical contract. It comes a bit late in the process, since the ballots are due back in the mail by next Tuesday, June 9. That means that the last day to reliably mail the ballots is probably Friday, or even Thursday, depending on your faith in the USPS and its vagaries. It also means that we have probably seen the end of the multitude of pro and con videos deployed on the SAG website, Membership First website, and YouTube.

Variety reports the turnout was slim—about 100 actors. SAGWatch infers, accurately I think, that most people have already voted and would have little reason to attend an informational meeting at this point.

The Variety report notes that attendees included SAG interim NED David White, President Alan Rosenberg, MF-ers 1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson and Scott Wilson, while supporters of the deal included Dan Lauria, Dylan Baker, SAG 2nd VP Sam Freed and board members Ralph Byers, Paul Christie, Rebecca Damon, Mike Hodge and Kevin Scullin.

A source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, tells me that the MF folks (perhaps 15-20 people) were rowdy, booing people and apparently having their cell phones call en masse to disrupt the meeting.

However, the most interesting thing the source told me is that after the meeting the source spoke individually with Alan Rosenberg and asked whether he would attempt to have SAG reimburse him for his legal fees incurred in the lawsuit he, Johnson, Diane Ladd and Kent McCord files against SAG itself, a suit that has received denials in both the trial and appellate courts but nonetheless continues at both levels.

What’s interesting Rosenberg’s response, as reported by the source: “I don’t have any legal fees. It’s pro bono.” This is a problem—if true, it would explain in part why Rosenberg and his co-plaintiffs continue the futile and disruptive suit against SAG, which is burning up the union’s money at a that the guild has ben left with a $6 million deficit by MF. It’s also a small benefit, in that the plaintiffs will have no legal fees to extract from SAG if they were to recover control of the national board.

I emailed Rosenberg requesting comment on the source’s report and his assistant replied that his response was as follows: “This is a private matter and I don’t want to speak about it publicly”. “I have no further comment”.

 

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SAG – AFRTRA RATIFY AGREEMENT

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SAG Executive Director

Filed under: Entertainment — showbizreporting @ 12:43 pm
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SAG Executive Director: TV/Theatrical Deal Will Pass  (May 20, 2009)

 

The referendum on the proposed contract between SAG and the studios began yesterday, as ballot packets were mailed to about 110,000 paid up members of the Screen Actors Guild. The votes are due back June 9. Will the agreement be ratified? SAG President Alan Rosenberg claims there’s “a good chance” it won’t, but the guild’s interim National Executive Director David White says otherwise, predicting confidently that the deal will pass.

White’s comment came in a wide-ranging, one-on-one interview yesterday afternoon and into the evening. The conversation, which lasted about two hours, touched on topics ranging from the proposed deal, to SAG’s relationships with AFTRA, talent agents and the industry at large, to the question of expired contracts.

The pending deal was, of course, the most pressing issue. White heralded the proposed agreement as “a good deal with solid gains,” and added that “Within the context of negotiations [lasting] over a year and an economy changed radically since 2008, it’s a fantastic deal.”

Asked whether the new media provisions in the deal were everything he wanted, White said no, but expressed confidence that improvements could be achieved in the next round of negotiations, when new media business models will be better understood. (The proposed deal expires in mid-2011, as do the Directors Guild, Writers Guild and AFTRA deals.) He added, “Notwithstanding the rhetoric, there have been upgrades in some formulas in the past and we’ll see some in the future in new media.” Although White judiciously refrained from singling out any particular members or factions, the comment seemed clearly a response to Membership First hardliners, who have frequently pointed to the studios’ 25-year refusal to improve home video residuals as evidence that the new media deal will never improve.

White’s confidence in the possibility of future upgrades led me to pose a question actors ask from time to time: do the studios want to break the union? His answer turned on the intermittent nature of entertainment employment: “Employers have a natural incentive to want weaker bargaining partners, but employers also understand that if unions didn’t exist they’d have to invent them. Unions are the glue,” White added, that allows actors to receive compensation between gigs (i.e., in the form of residuals), that deal with healthcare costs, and with pursuing claims when workers are wronged. He added that having union contracts in place lowers transaction costs—that is, the existence of the union agreement makes it unnecessary for producers to repeatedly negotiate minimum terms with each individual actor.

In other words, as White said, “Employers need unions to serve as an intermediary to ensure a professional talent pool.” And what about those “weaker bargaining partners”? White, the guild’s former general counsel, put it this way: “Our job is to put ourselves in the strongest position with the most leverage possible for the next round [of negotiations]. This contract lays a good foundation.”

Will White be running SAG when that next round comes around? That’s the Board’s decision, of course, but I asked White if he intended to be a candidate for the permanent (i.e., non-interim) NED job. He diplomatically claimed not to have given much thought to the matter, but added that he considered the position a “great job,” albeit a hard one. He also said he was enjoying it, which might suggest a touch of insanity, were it not for the fact that White is not only smart—he’s a Stanford Law grad and a Rhodes Scholar—but is a well-centered and calming influence as well.

Probably key to that sense of calm is an inner optimism. When I asked whether fixing SAG was hopeless, White replied that it was anything but. Instead, he said, board members from various factions have “an appetite to find a way to work together.” In White’s view, the industry and general public see SAG through a prism of political divisiveness, and that prism is not reality.

At that, I demurred, and White did acknowledge that members of the board hadn’t yet found as much common ground as they need to. Helping make that happen is one of White’s roles: “My job is to be the keeper of the focus—remind folks about the need to interact with each other as part of the same team [and] help members rally together.”

It might help if SAG’s board were smaller. In my view, its unwieldy size—71 members—contributes to the guild’s difficulties, since trust and consensus are difficult to achieve in such a setting. White was diplomatic on this score, acknowledging that the board, which was once even larger, might want to revisit the question of size.

If SAG’s internal politics are contentious, so too is the guild’s relationship with AFTRA. White sees that changing: “We are now building on the positive aspects of our relationship with AFTRA, notwithstanding the actions of some individual members.” Whether those members might include those who passed a Hollywood board motion last week to raid AFTRA is a question I didn’t ask White to address.

Should the two unions merge? White replied that that was up to the national board and to the members at large of both unions. In any case, White emphasized the need to reduce competition between the unions in areas of overlapping jurisdiction: “We must not have a race to the bottom on rates and provisions that protect the members.” White indicated he was looking at the idea of a joint SAG-AFTRA committee to discuss jurisdictional issues.

Another tough area for SAG is its relationship with talent agents: SAG’s been without a “franchise agreement” with the agents association since 2002, while AFTRA, DGA and WGA all have such agreements in place. White indicated that at some point, the guild will revisit the issue of the franchise agreement, but that in the meantime “there’s a lot that can be done beyond the formal negotiations of the franchise agreement.”

Speaking of the industry in general, White identified one of his priorities as “reinvigorat[ing] relationships with industry partners.” He stressed that the guild “wants to be viewed as a partner with industry,” and acknowledged that it is “challenging to cultivate relationships,” which is putting it mildly, given the work of his predecessor.

So what next? SAG has a number of other expired agreements—smaller fry than the SAG-AFTRA commercials agreement (expected to be ratified when votes are tallied tomorrow night) and the pending TV/theatrical agreement, but nonetheless important to those who make their living from them. White expressed confidence that the guild will be able to close some of those deals this year.

Circling back, I saved the toughest question for last: what if the TV/theatrical agreement fails to pass? White paused, then gave an answer that once again reflected an underlying optimism: “We’re being bombarded with messages of thanks from members around the country, so I’m hopeful that we won’t have to address that situation.” He’s not the only one who’s hopeful. We’ll know in a few weeks.

 

 

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DIGITAL MEDIA LAW: SAG TV/Theatrical Ballots Later Than Expected; SAG Litigation Continues; and More (APR. 29, 2009)

 

Digital Media Law

 

SAG TV/Theatrical Ballots Later Than Expected; SAG Litigation Continues; and More

Posted: 29 Apr 2009 02:19 AM PDT

The ballots for SAG’s recently approved TV/theatrical contract won’t be going out until mid to late May, a source tells me, several weeks later than the early May target that the Guild stated as recently as a week or so ago. That means that ratification, if achieved as expected, will not come until early to mid June, since balloting is expected to be a three week process.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained that writing the pro and con statements has only just begun. That process takes a week, and then another week is allowed for rebuttal statements to be written.

(BTW, a copy of the proposed TV/theatrical agreement is available here. I’ve not yet done an analysis, but in the meantime you can read SAGWatch’s.)

Meanwhile, ballots for the commercials contract will be mailed to both SAG and AFTRA members Thursday, and due back May 21, reports Variety. It’s expected to pass easily. In contrast, the TV/theatrical contract will probably pass with a yes vote in the 60%-75% range, roughly in the neighborhood of the AFTRA deal, which achieved 62%. Only a simple majority (i.e., just over 50%) is required.

In other SAG news, Unite for Strength revealed in a Facebook email several days ago that the force majeure compromise is 33 cents on the dollar. “Force majeure” refers to arbitration claims on behalf of about 500 actors for a portion of wages lost due to the 2007-2008 Writer Guild strike. The claims amount to about $63 million, and, thus, the total settlement is about $21 million. I’m told SAG members will get checks several weeks after the agreement is ratified.

That settlement amount—33 cents on the dollar—is on the low side, but that was a tradeoff. SAG wants its contract to expire in mid-2011, to synch up with the WGA, AFTRA, and DGA. That’s an issue created by the ten-month delay that the hardline Membership First faction inflicted on the union; without the delay, the deals would have synched up as a matter of course. To get synchronicity at this late date, SAG had to give something up.

Remember also that the claims are under arbitration. SAG could have gotten zero cents on the dollar if the arbitration had proceeded; or it could have prevailed altogether. With that much uncertainty, a settlement in the 50% range might have been expected. That would have yielded a total of about $31 million, rather than $21 million. So, it’s a reasonable conclusion that SAG gave up about $10 million in order to get the synchronized expiration date—and prompt payment to the affected members.

The Guild also had to agree to modify the TV-related force majeure language in a way that reduces the likelihood of future force majeure claims. To put this in context, though, I’m told there has never been an industry-wide force majeure claim before. The studios obviously want to avoid seeing one again, not only to reduce their costs, but also to decrease the strength by which SAG members would support a writers strike in the future. (In other words, if actors have to bear the entire cost of their own lost wages, they may be less likely to enthusiastically support a strike by a sister union.)

Speaking of lost wages, I also have a couple of factoids on the SAG layoffs: the total number of people laid off was 36 (not 35, as previously reported), with an additional 26 unfilled positions that will remain unfilled. That’s a total reduction in force of 62 positions, and the annual savings to the Guild is $2.5 million in salaries ($4 million if bonuses and other factors are included).

Moving from lost wages to lost causes, there are developments in the lawsuit filed against SAG by the union’s own president, Alan Rosenberg, and his fellow Membership First plaintiffs 1st VP Anne-Marie-Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord. That suit, as you may rather have forgotten, seeks to unseat the TV/theatrical negotiating task force, as well as interim National Executive Director David White and Chief Negotiator John McGuire. That group—plus the commercials negotiating committee—is the team that managed to close two deals in as many months, while MF closed nothing at all over several years.

The lawsuit, in my opinion, hasn’t got a Popsicle’s chance in hell. After all, what judge is going to unwind a twice-ratified union leadership change? Incredibly, the lawsuit proceeds on not one but two tracks, since there are now both a trial court action and a concurrent appeal. Rosenberg’s and his co-plaintiffs’ solicitude for the members apparently includes spending their money on pointless multi-pronged litigation—understandably, since abandoning the litigation before this summer’s SAG election would be no boon to MF’s election prospects. Indeed, if MF ever wins control of the Board again, you can expect a motion to have SAG reimburse Rosenberg et al. for their no doubt considerable litigation costs.

In any case, there are developments on two fronts. In the trial court, SAG filed its Answer to the plaintiffs’ first amended complaint. A variety of defenses are asserted, including that the complaint is moot (because the SAG Board re-fired the previous NED, Doug Allen, at a meeting, after having first done so by a written assent document), interferes with the union’s right of self-governance, and is barred by the wrongful acts of Rosenberg and his co-plaintiffs (this presumably refers to the 28-hour filibuster over which Rosenberg presided in an attempt to prevent Allen from being fired).

Meanwhile, in the Court of Appeal, Rosenberg & co. filed their Appellant’s Opening Brief several days ago, accompanied by multi-volume, multi-hundred page appendices of documents. The arguments are simply a rehash of the arguments Rosenberg and his co-plaintiffs made in the trial court–which were rejected not only by the trial court judge, but also in an earlier appeal. Yes, the current appeal is actually the second, and the case is only three months old.

What next? As the name implies, the Appellant’s Opening Brief is the first brief in the appeal. The next few weeks will see the filing of the respondent’s brief (SAG’s brief) and the reply brief (in which Rosenberg et al. get to reply to SAG’s brief). Then comes oral argument, unless the court decides to proceed based on the briefs alone (which I think the court has the right to do, but I’m not sure).

For those who find appellate work dry and lifeless (it’s all briefs and legal arguments, with no witnesses or jury), the trial court action will grind on as well, doubtless with demurrers, a motion to dismiss, motions for summary judgment, depositions, interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and all of the other costly accoutrement of modern-day litigation. Actually, that’s pretty dry and lifeless too. This could go on for months, providing amusement to everyone except SAG’s accountants. As in entertainment, so too in litigation: the show must go on.

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Daily Variety: Opponets ~ SAG could lose vote Members to weigh in on feature-primetime deal (MAR. 23, 2009)

 

Opponents: SAG could lose vote

Members to weigh in on feature-primetime deal

By DAVE MCNARY

 

Opponents of SAG’s tentative feature-primetime deal have declared that guild members will vote the pact down — as long as the turnout rate’s higher than the traditional 30%.

“The more people that we can get to vote, the better chance we have to get this voted down,” said Scott Wilson, organizer of a last-minute antiratification rally Thursday. “I think we have a real chance to defeat this if we can get the information out to the members.”

About 60 opponents attended the picketing outside the headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers at the Sherman Oaks Galleria. Attendees included national board member France Nuyen, Tom Bower and David Jolliffe, who headed SAG’s negotiating committee before it was abolished in January.

It’s uncertain what would happen if the deal went down to defeat, although opponents contend that such a move would force the congloms to offer SAG better terms in new media. The AMPTP’s insisted that SAG has to accept terms that are equivalent to those in the WGA, DGA and AFTRA deals and emphasized the final offer’s generous amid the current recession.

“We are the last man standing,” Wilson said of SAG. “The other unions have all rolled over.”

Wilson’s staged about a dozen rallies since the board replaced the negotiating committee and fired Doug Allen as national exec director out of frustration over his failure to close a deal. Ballots will go out early next month to SAG’s 120,000 members, with a return date three weeks later.

SAG’s national board approved the tentative deal Sunday by a narrow margin, with 53% backing the pact as the moderate side prevailed. Jolliffe admitted that SAG members are “war-weary” of the issues but agreed with Wilson’s forecast of a defeat.

“If we can get above 30%, we’ll defeat it,” Jolliffe added.

New York board member Paul Christie disagreed with that assessment.

“When the film version of Marat/SAG is greenlighted, they will serve as the Greek chorus howling at the moon and praying for a strike somewhere in the universe,” Christie said. “They are alone in their belief as usual.”

The antiratification forces, which include SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg and former president Ed Asner, are planning a May 3 rally at Griffith Park.

In SAG’s previous contract ratification vote in 2005, 76% of thesps who voted endorsed the deal despite opposition from the hardline Membership First faction. About 30%, or 35,000 members out of 119,000, returned ballots.

Membership First, Rosenberg and Allen tried unsuccessfully to derail AFTRA’s ratification of its primetime deal last summer — contending that it fell short in new media and a wide variety of other areas — after the sister union split from joint negotiations with SAG. The contract received backing from 62% of those voting, although AFTRA’s refused to disclose how many of its 70,000 members voted.

Proponents of the SAG deal have already emphasized that ratification will dispel the uncertainty that working without a contract has caused and tweaked Rosenberg and Allen for deleveraging SAG by alienating AFTRA. SAG’s deal includes a 3.5% annual hike in minimums — a 3% salary hike in the first year plus a 0.5% gain in pension and health contributions in the first year and a 3.5% salary increase in the second.

Allen’s replacements — David White as interim national exec director and John McGuire — were able to persuade the AMPTP to relent on its demand for a full three-year deal, keeping the expiration date of June 2011 in line with those for the DGA, WGA and AFTRA pacts.

Link – http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118002789.html?categoryid=13&cs=1&nid=2562

VARIETY: SAG PR BATTLES BEGINS: GUILD MEMBERS TO GET PITCHES, BALLOTS (APR. 22, 2009)

 

SAG PR battle begins

Guild members to get pitches, ballots

By 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full article at:
http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118002748.html

DAVE MCNARY

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