Showbizreporting's Blog

July 6, 2010

Industry Wife and Mother Speaks Out

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all changed now.

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

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

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

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

Please comment:

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

January 13, 2010

Digital Media Law

Filed under: Entertainment — showbizreporting @ 3:49 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Baby You Can Drive My Car: Hollywood Health Plans May Have to Pay “Cadillac Plan” Tax
By Jonathan Handel
Posted: 12 Jan 2010 11:59 PM PST

Hollywood unions have long bargained for great health benefits, often foregoing a portion of wage increases in order to fund those benefits (as well as valuable pension benefits). Those health benefits, which are available to middle-class members as well as wealthy stars, would be the envy of most of the country if people elsewhere knew of them: the DGA’s top-tier plan reportedly features 10% in-network co-pays and a deductible of $325 per person in a world where 30% copays and $1,000 deductibles are more common.

However, the Senate version of health care reform would tax a portion of the cost of such high-end plans, resulting in costs that would probably be passed on to members in the form of higher premiums and/or benefit cuts. The President met with union leaders Monday and indicated he may compromise on the issue. Like everything in health care reform, it’s all up in the air until something passes – or if something passes – in this health-insurance benighted nation. For more, see the piece on yesterday’s NY Times Media Decoder blog.

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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.

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.

August 13, 2009

Emmys on schedule?

Emmy ceremony to proceed in real time

TV Academy, CBS ditch plan to time-shift eight categories

By Nellie Andreeva

Aug 12, 2009, 02:13 PM ET

Updated: Aug 12, 2009, 11:04 PM ET

 
More Emmy coverage  

It has been a season of reversals for the Primetime Emmy Awards. First, the ceremony was shifted from Sept. 20, only to be returned to that date two weeks later. Now, in an even bigger about-face, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has scrapped a plan to time-shift eight categories on this year’s broadcast after a firestorm of criticism from the creative community.

As a result, all 28 categories slated for the CBS broadcast will be awarded live.

“This decision was made to mend relationships within the television community and to allow executive producer Don Mischer to focus his full attention on producing the creative elements in the telecast,” TV academy chairman and CEO John Shaffner said. “Our goal is to celebrate the year in television and honor excellence and this year’s great achievements with the support of our industry colleagues and our telecast partner.”

Last month, Mischer proposed and ATAS’ board of governors voted to approve a time-shift of eight awards.

The proposal included mostly longform categories: best movie and best miniseries; writing for movie/miniseries; directing for movie/miniseries; supporting actor and actress in TV movie/miniseries; writing for drama series; and directing for variety, music and comedy series.

“We try to make the Emmys more relevant to mainstream viewers while honoring the choice of the academy properly and appropriately,” Mischer said at the time.

But the move drew criticism from the WGA, DGA, SAG and several networks, including HBO, which dominates the longform field. More than 100 writer-producers, including Shonda Rhimes, Seth MacFarlane, Matthew Weiner and John Wells, signed a letter protesting the decision.

That petition was the wake-up call for the Academy that created the momentum to scrap the plan, WGA West president Patric Verrone said.

“It’s important that the TV Academy appreciates the power that writers and showrunners wield when they work together and they are a force to be reckoned with,” he said.

A main point of contention was that the plan had been drafted without input from the guilds.

After the ill-fated time-shifting announcement, there have been phone conversations between the Academy and WGA.

“There will be more going forward to prevent unilateral decisions like this being made without consulting with a very important part of the creative process — writers,” Verrone said.

The creative community’s public outcry over the plan spilled into the recent Television Critics Assn. press tour, where talent and executives univocally condemned the idea and CBS execs were forced to defend it.

With the backlash showing no signs of subsiding, ATAS, after consulting with CBS, decided to back off.

Mischer said the decision to keep all Emmy categories live “was made because ultimately it is in the best interest of the show” and “in the best interest of the entertainment industry.”

“We had attempted to make room in the show for more live performances. However, our community did not embrace the plan, which is a very important consideration,” he said.

This year’s Emmycast is a crucial one for the academy coming off last year’s ceremony, which hit an all-time ratings low, and entering the final year of its contract with the broadcast networks.

With ratings for other main awards shows rebounding, the academy and CBS have been looking for ways to liven up the telecast, which includes more categories awarded live than its counterparts.

July 21, 2009

DGA to Rosenberg: Go Away Already!

DGA to Rosenberg: Go away already

Michael Apted slams SAG president

The Directors Guild of America has told Screen Actors Guild president Alan Rosenberg to shut up and go away.

That’s the sentiment expressed by outgoing DGA president Michael Apted in a blunt letter responding to Rosenberg’s request for a summit meeting of the town’s unions about the 2011 round of negotiations.

Rosenberg pledged he would make such an effort on June 9, in the aftermath of SAG members’ ratification of the feature-primetime contract. But, in a letter sent Wednesday, Apted made it abundantly clear that Rosenberg’s relentless criticism of the DGA has been so out of line that the DGA’s not remotely interested in any such get-together.

Apted noted that under “normal circumstances,” such a summit meeting to discuss negotiations could take place — but without public proclamations announcing the meeting first.

“Of course, these are not normal circumstances,” Apted said. “Since June 9, I’ve seen repeated statements in the press regarding your intention to call a meeting, yet Monday’s email is the first time you’ve made any effort to contact me in over 18 months. In addition, you’ve repeatedly, and in my opinion unfraternally, attacked the negotiations and contracts of the DGA and other unions in the press and other public forums. So, in the circumstances, I’m very surprised that you would consider yourself to be in a position to convene an event that requires trust and fraternity to have any chance of success.”

Apted concluded the letter by saying, “On behalf of the DGA, I respectfully decline your request.”

Rosenberg told Daily Variety he was disappointed over Apted’s response.

“It’s a shame that what had been a private communication has become public,” he said. “I’m disappointed that Michael Apted doesn’t share my belief in the importance of building unity among the unions because our collective efforts should be towards obtaining a decent deal in two years. What’s happened at past negotiations doesn’t really matter now.”

The SAG president’s power to speak officially on behalf of the guild was taken away in late January as part of the move by the board’s moderates to oust former SAG national exec director Doug Allen.

But there’s been bad blood between the guilds dating back to Jan. 29, 2008 — when Rosenberg and Allen blasted the DGA’s tentative contract agreement with the majors, which eventually served as the template for the WGA, AFTRA and SAG contracts. Rosenberg and Allen criticized many of the specifics of the deal in a message sent to SAG members.

Apted responded on the same day by accusing SAG of throwing a monkey wrench into the talks between the WGA and majors that would ultimately settle the scribes’ 100-day walkout.

“Their letter has one purpose and one purpose only: to interfere with the informal talks currently under way between the WGA and the studios,” Apted said at the time. “Simply put, their assumptions and arguments are specious. The DGA deal is a great deal for our members.”

AFTRA president Roberta Reardon said last week that there had been no movement toward a summit meeting. She had proposed the idea a year ago but said last Friday that she’d wait until after the SAG elections in September before exploring such a step.

An AFTRA rep said that Los Angeles Local President Ron Morgan received an invitation earlier this week from Rosenberg to meet at his home on Aug. 3 to discuss “building solidarity” between the entertainment labor unions. But she added that AFTRA leaders won’t be available.

“AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon never received an invitation,” the rep added. “The entire AFTRA leadership team will be in Chicago from Monday, August 3 through Sunday, August 9 for the Convention and other related union meetings, which have been scheduled for more than a year.”

WGA West spokesman Neal Sacharow said that WGA West president Patric Verrone — who will be termed out of office in September — will attend the Aug. 3 meeting at Rosenberg’s home. Besides Apted, Verrone and Morgan, Rosenberg also invited Michael Miller, VP of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

“The refrain I heard most often during this past negotiating season is that we had to ‘build solidarity between our organizations’ in preparation for 2011,” Rosenberg said in the invite. “I would like to invite you to what, I hope, will be the first in a series of informal, discussions designed to create that unity. In general, I would like to explore those areas where we share common ground, and how we might develop strategies that will benefit our respective members.”

July 17, 2009

DGA tell Rosenberg

Speaks volumes about the future.

Michael Apted slams SAG president – By Dave McNary July 17. 2009

The Directors Guild of America has told Screen Actors Guild president Alan Rosenberg to shut up and go away.

That’s the sentiment expressed by outgoing DGA president Michael Apted in a blunt letter responding to Rosenberg’s request for a summit meeting of the town’s unions about the 2011 round of negotiations.

Rosenberg pledged he would make such an effort on June 9, in the aftermath of SAG members’ ratification of the feature-primetime contract. But, in a letter sent Wednesday, Apted made it abundantly clear that Rosenberg’s relentless criticism of the DGA has been so out of line that the DGA’s not remotely interested in any such get-together.

Apted noted that under “normal circumstances,” such a summit meeting to discuss negotiations could take place — but without public proclamations announcing the meeting first.

“Of course, these are not normal circumstances,” Apted said. “Since June 9, I’ve seen repeated statements in the press regarding your intention to call a meeting, yet Monday’s email is the first time you’ve made any effort to contact me in over 18 months. In addition, you’ve repeatedly, and in my opinion unfraternally, attacked the negotiations and contracts of the DGA and other unions in the press and other public forums. So, in the circumstances, I’m very surprised that you would consider yourself to be in a position to convene an event that requires trust and fraternity to have any chance of success.”

Apted concluded the letter by saying, “On behalf of the DGA, I respectfully decline your request.”

Rosenberg told Daily Variety he was disappointed over Apted’s response.

“It’s a shame that what had been a private communication has become public,” he said. “I’m disappointed that Michael Apted doesn’t share my belief in the importance of building unity among the unions because our collective efforts should be towards obtaining a decent deal in two years. What’s happened at past negotiations doesn’t really matter now.”

The SAG president’s power to speak officially on behalf of the guild was taken away in late January as part of the move by the board’s moderates to oust former SAG national exec director Doug Allen.

But there’s been bad blood between the guilds dating back to Jan. 29, 2008 — when Rosenberg and Allen blasted the DGA’s tentative contract agreement with the majors, which eventually served as the template for the WGA, AFTRA and SAG contracts. Rosenberg and Allen criticized many of the specifics of the deal in a message sent to SAG members.

Apted responded on the same day by accusing SAG of throwing a monkey wrench into the talks between the WGA and majors that would ultimately settle the scribes’ 100-day walkout.

“Their letter has one purpose and one purpose only: to interfere with the informal talks currently under way between the WGA and the studios,” Apted said at the time. “Simply put, their assumptions and arguments are specious. The DGA deal is a great deal for our members.”

AFTRA president Roberta Reardon said last week that there had been no movement toward a summit meeting. She had proposed the idea a year ago but said last Friday that she’d wait until after the SAG elections in September before exploring such a step.

The WGA said it has not been approached by Rosenberg about such a summit meeting.

An AFTRA rep said that Los Angeles Local President Ron Morgan received an invitation earlier this week from Rosenberg to meet at his home on Aug. 3 to discuss “building solidarity” between the entertainment labor unions. But she added that AFTRA leaders won’t be available.

“AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon never received an invitation,” the rep added. “The entire AFTRA leadership team will be in Chicago from Monday, August 3 through Sunday, August 9 for the Convention and other related union meetings, which have been scheduled for more than a year.”

WGA West spokesman Neal Sacharow said Thursday, “The WGA has not been approached by Alan Rosenberg about such a summit meeting.”

June 3, 2009

SAG – AFRTRA RATIFY AGREEMENT

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAG 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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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.

Variety: SAG Mailing Out Ballots May 19 – Guild To Vote on Feature-Primetime Contract (APR. 29, 2009)

 

SAG mailing out ballots May 19

Guild to vote on feature-primetime contract

By DAVE MCNARY

 

SAG will mail out its feature-primetime contract ratification ballots to members May 19, with a return date of June 9. That means nearly a year will have passed between the time the ballots will be tallied and the June 30, 2008, expiration of the previous contract.

SAG originally said it would send out ballots in early May, but the guild needed more time to prepare the pro and con statements going out with the ballot to its 120,000 members.

The year of the contract impasse has been marked by explosive internal battles over the pact, between the hardline Membership First faction and a moderate coalition that gained a narrow majority on the national board in the fall — including January’s firing of national exec director Doug Allen for allegedly botching negotiations. The two sides are jockeying for political leverage in the next round of SAG elections in September, with Membership First bitterly opposing the deal.

SAG’s national board approved the two-year deal April 19 with a 53% endorsement. Backers touted the pact for keeping SAG in synch with the DGA, WGA and AFTRA expirations in 2011, and bringing about much-needed stability plus pay raises to thesps, along with blasting Membership First for being unrealistic in its aggressive approach to negotiations.

For its part, Membership First staged a demonstration Wednesday in Pasadena to protest the hiring of an outside PR firm, Saylor Co., to persuade members to approve the contract agreement. About 60 attended the event, including Tony Danza and former SAG president Ed Asner.

Opponents of the deal have asserted that the growth of new-media precludes accepting the same template as the WGA, DGA and AFTRA. They’ve contended that voting the deal down would force the congloms to offer SAG better terms — though the congloms have insisted for the past year that they will not sweeten the deal.

Read the full article at:
http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118003002.html

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