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October 27, 2009

Variety: SAG stats- Diversity Lags

SAG stats: Diversity lags
Minorities, seniors, females underrepresented

By DAVE MCNARYMore Articles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The picture did improve slightly for older thesps.

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

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

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

October 20, 2009

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

AFTRA and SAG Approve Extension of Contracts Covering Non-Broadcast, Industrial and Educational Agreements
By SOP newswire2

Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists announced today that the AFTRA Administrative Committee and Screen Actors Guild National Board of Directors have approved an 18-month extension to the SAG Industrial and Educational Contract and AFTRA Code of Fair Practice for Non Broadcast/Industrial/Educational Recorded Material. The contracts, which were set to expire on Oct. 29, 2009, will now be effective Nov. 1, 2009, to April 31, 2011.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About SAG
Screen Actors Guild is the nation`s largest labor union representing working actors. Established in 1933, SAG has a rich history in the American labor movement, from standing up to studios to break long-term engagement contracts in the 1940s to fighting for artists` rights amid the digital revolution sweeping the entertainment industry in the 21st century. With 20 Branches nationwide, SAG represents more than 120,000 actors who work in film and digital motion pictures and television programs, commercials, video games, industrials, Internet and all new media formats. The Guild exists to enhance actors` working conditions, compensation and benefits and to be a powerful, unified voice on behalf of artists` rights. SAG is a proud affiliate of the AFL-CIO. Headquartered in Los Angeles, you can visit SAG online at SAG.org.

About AFTRA
The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO, are the people who entertain and inform America. In 32 Locals across the country, AFTRA members work as actors, journalists, singers, dancers, announcers, hosts, comedians, disc jockeys, and other performers across the media industries including television, radio, cable, sound recordings, music videos, commercials, audiobooks, non-broadcast industrials, interactive games, the Internet and other digital media. The 70,000 professional performers, broadcasters, and recording artists of AFTRA are working together to protect and improve their jobs, lives, and communities in the 21st century. From new art forms to new technology, AFTRA members embrace change in their work and craft to enhance American culture and society. Visit AFTRA online at http://www.aftra.com.

http://thesop.org/entertainment/2009/10/16/aftra-and-sag-approve-extension-of-contracts-covering-nonbroadcast-industrial-and-educational-agreements

June 16, 2009

Digital Media Law: SAG Lawsuit Still Grinds On; Court Denies SAG’s Motion to Dismiss Appeal

SAG Lawsuit Still Grinds On; Court Denies SAG’s Motion to Dismiss Appeal

As I previously reported, SAG’s counsel in late May filed a motion to dismiss the appeal by SAG president Alan Rosenberg and three other Membership First hardliners (1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord) of a Superior Court order that denied their application for a temporary restraining order. On June 5—just days before the new TV/theatrical contracts were ratified—Rosenberg et al. filed a brief opposing the motion to dismiss.

Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals on June 9 issued a one-sentence order denying the motion to dismiss, presumably meaning that the appeal is too complex to be decided without oral argument (or, at least, full briefing). So, the appeal grinds on. Rosenberg et al. previously filed their brief in the appeal. SAG’s responsive brief is due July 1. Thereafter, Rosenberg et al. get to file a reply brief, and then there will probably be oral argument at some point. Within 90 days after the oral argument, the court will issue its ruling.

In other words, the appeal will probably drag on until sometime in November unless Rosenberg et al. are persuaded to drop it. Meanwhile, the suit itself proceeds in the trial court as well. Confused as to how a case can proceed in two courts at once? Well, it happens, and the legal fees aren’t cheap. All of this sounds like a campaign issue that Unite for Strength will probably raise—why reelect a president who persists in suing his own union? UPDATE: Indeed, as SAGWatch points out, by continuing to pursue their lawsuit, Rosenberg et al. are reneging on a promise Anne-Marie Johnson publicly made to withdraw the suit if the TV/theatrical contracts were approved.

June 10, 2009

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

Digital Media Law

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

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

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

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

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

Below are press releases from AFTRA and the AMPTP.

————————-

AFTRA Press Release

AFTRA President Roberta Reardon Applauds SAG Contract Ratification

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

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

———————

AMPTP Press Release

Statement by the AMPTP

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

June 3, 2009

Variety: SAG, AFTRA mail out ballots: Members to Vote on New Commercials Pact (MAY 1, 2009)

 

SAG, AFTRA mail out ballots

Members to vote on new commercials pact

By DAVE MCNARY

 

SAG and AFTRA have launched their campaign to persuade about 150,000 members to approve the new commercials pact in what’s expected to be an easy ratification.

The unions mailed out the ratification ballots Thursday, followed by an email message Friday that disclosed plans for holding informational meetings in 18 cities. Ballots are due back by May 21.

Unlike the SAG feature-primetime contract, no opposition’s yet emerged to the commercials deal — which has received unanimous backing from the joint negotiating committee and the joint boards of the two unions.

“We believe this is a good and fair contract and we urge you to vote yes,” said SAG president Alan Rosenberg and AFTRA president Roberta Reardon at the conclusion of a letter to members. The letter was also signed by SAG interim national exec director David White and chief negotiator John McGuire along with AFTRA topper Kim Roberts Hedgpeth and chief negotiator Mathis Dunn.

Rosenberg has been fighting ratification of SAG’s deal, mainly on grounds that its new-media provisions fall short. Ballots for the SAG pact go out May 19 with a June 9 return date.

The commercials deal represents a $36 million pay hike in the first year of the contract and a $24 million increase in pension and health contributions over the pact’s three years. It also preserves the current pay-per-play Class A residuals structure while providing for a pilot study on new compenasation model based on ratings.

The commercials pact, which covers nearly $1 billion in annual blurb work, will be retroactive to April 1 and run through March 31, 2012. SAG and AFTRA staged a bitter six-month strike in 2000 against the ad industry, but the tough economic times plus a shift in control of SAG’s national board to a more moderate faction last fall provided strong indications that a commercials strike was unlikely.

Read the full article at:
http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118003084.html

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.

———————

From AFTRA themselves (APR. 23, 2009)


April 2009

Joint AFTRA and SAG National Board of Directors Approves New Commercials Contracts for Ratification

Meeting by videoconference plenary in Los Angeles and New York, the Joint SAG-AFTRA National Board today voted unanimously to approve and recommend to members, new three-year successor agreements to the 2006 AFTRA Television and Radio Commercials Contracts and the 2006 Screen Actors Guild Television Commercials Contract.

The proposed agreements, which cover performers working in commercials made for and reused on television, radio, the Internet, and new media, will net a three-year increase in payments to performers totaling an estimated $36 million, including approximately $21 million in increased contributions to the SAG Pension & Health and AFTRA Health & Retirement plans. The total combined value of the AFTRA and SAG contracts is projected at more than $2.9 billion for working performers, including actors, singers, dancers, choreographers, stunt persons, and extras.

Additionally, the new contracts contain an agreement in principle outlining terms for a pilot study for the purpose of testing the Gross Rating Points (GRP) model of restructuring compensation to performers as proposed by Booz & Co. The two-year study will be conducted by a jointly retained consultant engaged by the unions and the industry. The study will be paid for by grants from Screen Actors Guild-Industry Advancement and Cooperative Fund (IACF) and the AFTRA-Industry Cooperative Fund (AICF).

The unions also successfully established a first-ever payment structure in commercials for the Internet and other new media platforms. The unions established jurisdiction over commercial work made for the Internet in 2000, and new media formats in 2006. The new payment structure goes into effect in the third year of the contract.

The referendum will be mailed to the members of both unions next week (dual SAG and AFTRA members will receive one ballot) with a return date in mid-May. Results will be announced at that time.

Following the vote, AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon and AFTRA Chair of the Joint Negotiating Committee said: “Our new agreement is a major achievement in any economy, but it is especially crucial for union members working to make ends meet in today’s difficult marketplace. I applaud the vision and hard work of the joint committee who worked together to win increases both in performers’ minimum compensation and in employer contributions to our health and pension plans, and who successfully preserved Class A payments so critically important to our members around the country.”

Screen Actors Guild National President Alan Rosenberg said: “I am pleased and gratified to have achieved these gains and to recommend this agreement for ratification. I congratulate all of the parties, and particularly the co-chairs, committee members and staff on the remarkable gains they achieved for actors across the country.”

“It’s a solid agreement with meaningful gains,” said Screen Actors Guild Chair of the Joint Negotiating Committee Sue-Anne Morrow. “There are significant improvements in compensation and benefits for union commercial actors and it gives the industry, including our members, a measure of financial certainty in an uncertain economy. It also guarantees advertisers continued access to the finest actors in the world on whose talent their brand success often rests. It’s a win for actors, a win for the industry, and a win for consumers.”

Screen Actors Guild Chief Negotiator John McGuire, a veteran of more than 10 separate commercials contracts negotiations said: “This is an agreement we can all be proud of and I look forward to ratification by the members of Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA. I commend the negotiating committee chairs, co-chairs, and members, along with my colleagues Ray Rodriguez, Screen Actors Guild’s Deputy National Executive Director of Contracts, and Mathis Dunn, AFTRA’s Chief Negotiator.”

“This is a successful conclusion to a challenging negotiation, conducted during a difficult economic and technological time in the industry. As always, that success rests with the members of our joint committee, our staff and our counterparts at the Joint Policy Committee. Together, we served the interests of actors and the industry,” McGuire added.

AFTRA Assistant National Executive Director Mathis L. Dunn, Jr., who served as AFTRA Chief Negotiator, noted: “I commend all of our union members who participated in the many educational, informational, and wages and working conditions meetings leading up to these negotiations. They delivered a clear message to our joint negotiating committee on their priority issues. I am proud to say that we delivered on these priorities and much more. The agreement will enhance the careers of all working performers today, and protect future generations of union members as technology and consumer tastes shift in the radically changing world of new media.”

Highlights of the new agreement include:

Three-year agreement, term effective April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2012, upon ratification by members of both unions.
5.5% overall increase in wages and other compensation over the life of the contracts, including a 4.43% increase, effective April 1, 2009, in Class A, Wild Spot, and basic cable session and use fees.
For product moved over to the Internet or in New Media, compensation of 1.3 times the minimum session fee for 8 weeks of use and 3.5 times the minimum session fee for one year’s use.
For product made for the Internet or New Media, a new minimum rate structure of 1.3 times the minimum session fee for 8 weeks of use and 3.5 times the minimum session fee for one year’s use, effective in the third year of the contract.
0.5% increases in the employer contribution rate to the AFTRA H&R and SAG P&H plans, and a 0.2% increase in employer contributions to the SAG Industry Advancement Cooperative Fund and the AFTRA-Industry Cooperative Fund, bringing the total contribution rate to 15.5%. Effective in year three, the agreement provides for a cap on P&H and H&R contributions for services covered by the contracts to $1 million per performer, per contract, per year with anticipated net gains in P&H and H&R over the term of the contract.
Secured five new covered jobs for commercial extras, up from 40 to 45.
Established new exclusivity compensation for made-for cable only commercials.
Instituted, for the first time, a contract provision to pay extras a round-trip mileage fee of $8.
Increased foreign use payments under the Spanish Language section of the contract.
The across the board increase under the AFTRA Radio Commercials Contract is 5.35%, in addition to contributions to AFTRA H&R and the AICF.
All of the unions’ proposals regarding diversity issues were addressed in the negotiations.
AFTRA and SAG joint member education and informational meetings will be conducted around the nation to provide members with an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the new agreements prior to voting.

Formal negotiations between the 26-member AFTRA/SAG Joint Negotiating Committee and the Joint Policy Committee (JPC) of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) began on February 23 and concluded on the morning of April 1 in New York City.

About AFTRA
The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO, are the people who entertain and inform America. In 32 Locals across the country, AFTRA members work as actors, journalists, singers, dancers, announcers, hosts, comedians, disc jockeys, and other performers across the media industries including television, radio, cable, sound recordings, music videos, commercials, audiobooks, non-broadcast industrials, interactive games, the Internet, and other digital media. The 70,000 professional performers, broadcasters, and recording artists of AFTRA are working together to protect and improve their jobs, lives, and communities in the 21st century. From new art forms to new technology, AFTRA members embrace change in their work and craft to enhance American culture and society.

About SAG
Screen Actors Guild is the nation’s largest labor union representing working actors. Established in 1933, SAG has a rich history in the American labor movement, from standing up to studios to break long-term engagement contracts in the 1940s to fighting for artists’ rights amid the digital revolution sweeping the entertainment industry in the 21st century. With 20 branches nationwide, SAG represents nearly 120,000 actors who work in film, television, industrials, commercials, video games, music videos and other new media. The Guild exists to enhance actors’ working conditions, compensation and benefits and to be a powerful, unified voice on behalf of artists’ rights. SAG is a proud affiliate of the AFL-CIO. Headquartered in Los Angeles.

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

June 2, 2009

Variety: Doug Allen Joins SAG Picketers (Mar. 18, 2009)

Doug Allen joins SAG picketers

Ousted exec appears at Hollywood protest

SAG Protest

By DAVE MCNARY

Nearly two months after being fired by SAG’s elected leaders, Doug Allen has returned.

SAG’s former national exec made a brief appearance at midday Wednesday on a picket line outside CBS Television City in Hollywood, joining about 100 members who are protesting the final offer on the table from the majors. He wasn’t available for comment after the event.

“He told me, ‘I heard that some of my friends were here,’ ” said Scott Wilson, who had organized the event. “People who are out here really respect what he tried to do.”

 

Allen became a lightning rod during his two-year tenure at SAG, with the moderate coalition that gained control last fall becoming increasingly frustrated with his inability to close out the feature-primetime contract and his advocacy of a strike authorization. After Allen’s Membership First backers staged a ferocious 30-hour filibuster on Jan. 12-13 to prevent his ouster, the moderates used a “written assent” two weeks later to fire him.

Allen sent out a brief farewell message on the day he was fired but has kept a low profile since. SAG president Alan Rosenberg and three other members tried to reinstate Allen by suing SAG and the board members who had voted to fire him but struck out in court.

Membership First has advocated sending out the companies’ “last, best, final” offer to members so that they can vote it down as a way of pushing the congloms to improve the deal. But the SAG national board has spurned that strategy.

Instead, David White — Allen’s interim replacement as national exec director — has reassured thesps he’s trying to break the stalemate. White said Tuesday that SAG leaders are working “deliberately, and with as much haste as possible, to conclude our talks and bring to you, the members, a deal for your ratification.”

White said there are no dates scheduled for a return to formal negotiations. “However, our negotiators are active behind the scenes,” he added.

That was White’s first communication with members other than a message he sent when Allen was ousted.

SAG and the AMPTP nearly reached a deal on Feb. 19, but those talks collapsed over the contract expiration date — with SAG pushing for a mid-2011 expiration in line with the pacts of other unions while the AMPTP insisted on a full three-year term from the date of ratification. SAG members are working under terms of a contract that expired June 30.

Wilson also said that opponents of the deal plan to picket today at NBC Studios in Burbank in connection with President Obama’s appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”

Link here: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118001379.html?categoryid=1066&cs=1 

Digital Media Law: Actors Commercials Negotiations Detoriate (Mar. 18, 2009)

 

Digital Media Law

 

Actors Commercials Negotiations Deteriorate

Posted: 17 Mar 2009 10:15 PM PDT

Though it gets less play than the stalled SAG TV/theatrical talks, SAG and AFTRA have been jointly negotiating for several weeks with the advertising industry over the commercials contract. That contract is SAG’s second most important, economically, and represents hundreds of millions of dollars per year to SAG alone (I don’t have the AFTRA figures). Now, after industry statements that the negotiations had been going reasonably well, the talks seem to have hit a snag, and the unions may seek a strike authorization vote from their members, reports The Wrap.

The report goes on to say that the unions have already written—and someone has leaked—a draft letter to be sent to the membership of both unions seeking a strike authorization. A separate report in Blog Stage adds that the letter would also include a separate set of pro-authorization talking points, also leaked. (See below for copies of the letter and talking points.) That report cautions that the leaks may be just a negotiating ploy. A statement from SAG and AFTRA described the leak as an “unauthorized distribution of . . . one of many contingency documents that we prepare in the course of any negotiations.”

Nonetheless, I’m guessing the leaks are a trial balloon intended to pressure the Joint Policy Committee, or JPC, representing the advertisers and ad agencies. If the JPC doesn’t move on the issues and if the union membership doesn’t rebel at the idea of an authorization, then we may indeed see an authorization put to a vote of the members. (It’s important to remember that an authorization does not automatically mean a strike, especially since the more strike-averse AFTRA is part of the mix, unlike with the SAG TV/theatrical negotiations, where the more strike-happy hardliners were unconstrained last year.)

So, will the JPC move on the issues in the absence of a strike authorization? Apparently, they often play hardball until a strike authorization vote is held, note the Hollywood Reporter. That seems especially likely today, since the JPC recognizes that SAG is now a fatigued and overextended union, thanks largely to the hardliners’ stalling tactics last year and into January.
 

Those tactics have left SAG actors with virtually no studio theatrical work since June 30 of last year, no increase in minimum compensation levels for TV work (and the theatrical work that does exist), a dramatically diminished share of pilots, and a panoply of expired contracts in other areas. All of this, combined with the state of the economy, leaves SAG members more vulnerable and less likely to support a strike. (AFTRA actors are likewise vulnerable, if for no other reason than the fact that most of them are SAG members as well.) The result is less leverage at the bargaining table for the unions, and more for the JPC.

Speaking of issues, let’s look at the major ones. The fundamental roadblocks are (1) new media and (2) the economy. New media, of course, had been the major stumbling block in the negotiations between SAG and the studios before being at least partially eclipsed by the issue of contract expiration date. Among other things, the current commercials contract apparently has no minimums in new media. The unions want to change that.

As for the economy, it’s reared its ugly hydra-head in several ways. For one thing, the JPC has apparently yet to make an offer regarding wage increases. When they do, don’t count on it to make the unions happy.

On another economic front, the recession has decreased the value of pension plan and individual retirement assets everywhere. In addition, economists worry now about deflation of prices generally, but one area that still features high prices is health care. In this environment of benefits-related anxiety, the JPC is apparently seeking rollbacks and caps on the companies’ contributions to the unions’ pension and health funds. The unions, not surprisingly, want an increase in those contributions.

(Side note: P&H rollbacks also feature in the campaign by some members of IATSE, the union that represents most crew members, to derail that union’s proposed contract with the studios. Ballots are due back tomorrow, March 18—or perhaps have to be postmarked by then, I’m unclear—but either way, we’ll soon know the fate of that agreement. It’s expected to pass.)

Yet another significant issue is a proposal by the JPC to dramatically alter the way residuals are paid for national commercials—so-called Class A residuals. This comes in response to declining viewership of national ads due both to commercial-skipping by DVR users and to audience fragmentation, i.e., viewer migration away from network TV and towards cable TV, video games and the Internet.
 

The JPC says that its proposal is revenue neutral but simply changes allocations—in other words, that some union members would gain (those doing cable and Internet commercials), others would lose (those doing national broadcast network commercials), but as a whole they would receive the same amount of residuals in aggregate. (The same amount as what? As today? As under the union proposal? I don’t have the details, because there’s a news blackout.) The unions appear skeptical.

There’s a multi-way struggle here, by the way, because actors (and other production expenses) are only one aspect of the advertising cost structure. The other, of course, is the cost to air the ads—i.e., the prices that the networks and other outlets charge. That means that the more the networks push to maintain ad prices in the face of declining viewership and a softening ad market (which results from the slackening demand for consumer products), the less money the advertisers can afford to spend on production. Thus, they put the squeeze on actors. In a struggle between networks and actors for piece of the advertisers’ purse, guess who’s likely to win.

So, theatrical production is stalled and likely to stay depressed even after (if?) the stalemate ends, scripted television is eroding, advertising is soft, and the Internet pays everyone (producers and talent alike) mere pennies on the dollar. What’s a thesp to do? “Keep your day job” is too flip a response, but it sure isn’t an easy time to be an actor.

———————

In other Hollywood labor news, Variety reports that SAG interim National Executive Director David White sent SAG members a message today stating that, although no new formal talks with the studios are set, union negotiators are working behind the scenes to achieve a deal. No word on what exactly that means,

Meanwhile, SAG president Alan Rosenberg’s lawsuit against his own union slowly winds its way through the legal system. Rosenberg ’s lawyers filed some documents last week. I doubt they’re significant, but don’t know, because I haven’t seen them. The lawsuit seems, at least for now, to be a mere sideshow, but even defeats at both the lower court and appellate level haven’t deterred Rosenberg and his fellow plaintiffs (1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord) from pursuing their now-moot claims.

In another development, the WGA is cutting 10% of its staff, Variety reports. The causes: (1) a recession-caused decline in value of the WGA’s investment portfolio; (2) a reduction in dues-generating work for WGA members, due to last year’s writers strike and no doubt exacerbated by the slow decline in scripted television; and (3) expenses incurred in the so-far unsuccessful attempts to organize reality TV and animation. The WGA had no comment, says Variety.

———————

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.

———————

Here’s the draft letter. The underlined text at the beginning was in the letter as provided; it was not written by me.

 

POTENTIAL DRAFT LETTER FROM UNIONS RE: STRIKE AUTHORIZATION… IF PROGRESS IS NOT MADE, THEY WILL SEEK A STRIKE AUTHORIZATION VOTE FROM MEMBERS.

 

2009 COMMERCIALS CONTRACTS

Strike Authorization Ballot

 

To All Members of Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA:

 

Your AFTRA and SAG Presidents, Joint Board of Directors and Joint Negotiating Committee urge you to read this vital report, VOTE YES and mail your ballot today authorizing your Joint Board of Directors to call a strike in the field of television and radio commercials ONLY IF IT BECOMES ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to achieve fair and equitable successor agreements.

 

PLEASE NOTE that these negotiations cover all AFTRA and SAG principal and extra performers employed in English and Spanish television and radio commercials. Employment in the following contract areas IS NOT affected by these negotiations: theatrical films, television and radio programs, news, industrial/educational and non-broadcast productions, sound recordings, music videos, interactive programs/video games and entertainment programs made for the Internet or New Media.

 

In today’s economy, SAG and AFTRA members need strong contracts more than ever. The industry is proposing major rollbacks that include:

 

• Significant changes to the compensation model

• A “pilot study” that tests ONLY the industry’s preferred compensation model without an equal study of the unions’ preferred compensation model

• Debilitating reductions in contributions to our P&H and H&R plans

 

Since February 23, your joint AFTRA/SAG negotiating team has been bargaining in New York City with the Joint Policy Committee (JPC) of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) for new, three-year contracts covering the terms of your employment in television and radio commercials. From the first day of the negotiations, it has been our intention to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides. The issues at stake in these negotiations are critically important and require that we bring our full bargaining power to the table by passing this referendum to authorize a strike in the field of television and radio commercials.

 

In 2006, the Industry invoked language in the Commercials Contracts that required the Unions to explore alternate methods of compensation for principal performers in commercials. This led to a seven month, $1.3 million study by the consulting firm of Booz Allen Hamilton (now called Booz & Co.) commissioned jointly by the Industry and the Unions. Booz & Co. recommended a number of alternative methods of compensation including an “Adjusting Tiers” proposal that the Unions favor and a Gross Ratings Points (GRP) proposal favored by the Industry. Booz & Co. also made recommendations regarding the Internet and New Media, including the elimination of free bargaining, which is favored by the unions.

 

Your joint negotiating team has sought to continue the cooperative approach to this process that the Unions have exhibited from the very beginning. The JPC, however, has insisted that the only compensation model open to further exploration is the GRP model – the industry’s favored option. The Industry has also proposed an accelerated timetable for a “pilot study” to test their GRP proposal. At the conclusion of this study, our ability to agree to implementation of the new system would be taken away from us and placed in the hands of a third party consultant.

 

While your joint negotiating team believes it is important to be open minded about the possibilities for adapting our contracts to changing times, we strongly feel that any changes to our basic compensation structure must be pursued with care and deliberation. Further, any changes should only considered after full and unfettered analysis by the unions of the results of a pilot study that evaluates BOTH the Industry’s favored option and ours. We also believe it is important to act on Booz & Co.’s recommendation to eliminate free bargaining and establish minimums for commercials made for the Internet and New Media—a subject the Industry has not addressed.

 

At the same time, the Industry has demanded debilitating rollbacks in contributions to our P&H and H&R plans. By once again proposing a “cap” on contributions, the Industry threatens to eliminate tens of millions of dollars in contributions from our Plans, just as the Plans are suffering through the fallout of the current recession. The Industry also seeks to change the way contributions are made on multiservice contracts, which could even further reduce contributions to the Plans.

 

The AFTRA and SAG commercials contracts provide an important and often critical source of income to thousands of our members across the country. The national commercials contracts set rates and benefits for national commercials and ad campaigns in the major markets and across the country. The SAG and AFTRA commercials contracts support more of our members and their families than almost any other contract.

 

Your joint negotiating team is fully aware of the economic realities we are facing today and the challenges of negotiating in such an environment. However, rollbacks of this magnitude have such negative consequences that they must be met with determination and conviction from our members.

 

Your joint negotiating team will continue to fight for a fair contract and we hope to achieve such a contract without a work stoppage. Management must know, however, that you the members of AFTRA and SAG stand firm and united in your resolve to obtain equitable commercials contracts that do not decimate or negatively affect either of our Health or Pension Plans.

 

Your YES vote on the enclosed strike authorization ballot is necessary to send a strong message of clarity, strength and solidarity to management.

 

———————

Here are the unions’ talking points.

 

EMPLOYER RESPONSE TO UNIONS’ PROPOSALS:

 

• BASIC WAGES—Employers have made no wage offer.

 

• PENSION, HEALTH AND RETIREMENT—Despite the potentially devastating impact of the declining global markets on our Plans, the Employers have offered no increases in contributions and continue to press for “caps,” which will cost our Plans more than $60 million.

 

• CABLE—Employers have not responded to the Unions’ proposal to remove the “cap” on cable units despite a finding by Booz & Co. that cable is greatly undervalued [OR: “is an area of tremendous growth and earnings for advertisers.”]. Nor have they responded to the Unions’ proposal to extend exclusivity and holding fees to cover commercials made for national cable networks.

 

• INTERNET & NEW MEDIA—Employers have not addressed the Unions’ proposals for fair payment structures to replace the current experimental “free bargaining” approach to the Internet & New Media, which fails to provide any minimums at all.

 

• MONITORING—Employers have not responded to the Unions’ comprehensive proposal on monitoring.

 

• LIQUIDATED DAMAGES FOR LATE PAYMENT—Employers have not responded to the Unions’ proposal to increase damages for late payment of wages for the first time since 1978.

 

• SPANISH LANGUAGE—Employers have responded to the Unions’ proposal to rectify the decades-old refusal to pay “Class A” use fees for commercials on Spanish Language networks by proposing to roll back existing protections for Spanish Language performers.

 

• PREFERENCE & EXTRA COVERAGE ZONES—Employers have not responded to the Unions’ proposal to apply the contract to extra performers and to require preference of employment for professional performers in Charlotte , North Carolina and Austin , Texas .

 

• STUNT DRIVERS—Unions have proposed that Employers pay stunt drivers residuals when they sell the Employer’s product. Employers have responded by proposing to narrow the circumstances when stunt performers are entitled to residuals and to make it more difficult for them to file upgrade claims.

 

• SINGERS, DANCERS & CHOREOGRAPHERS—Employers have not addressed the Unions’ proposals to improve working conditions for dancers, to protect singers against automatic renewal at old rates, and to provide a limited ability for choreographers who have done covered work in at least 5 prior years to earn eligibility for benefits.

 

EMPLOYER ROLLBACKS:

 

• ELIMINATE “CLASS A”—Employers have proposed a radical, untested new system for compensating performers in national commercials that eliminates the current “Class A” payment structure, as well as the current structure for national cable commercials.

 

• DECREASE CONTRIBUTIONS TO PENSION, HEALTH, AND RETIREMENT BY OVER $20 MILLION—Employers have proposed implementing a “cap” over which they would not make contributions to P&H or H&R. This will cost the Plans at least $20 million at a time when they are already suffering due to the bad economy. Employers have also proposed changes in how contributions are made on multiservice contracts that will likely further reduce contributions.

 

• OVERTIME—Employers have proposed that overtime apply only after 10 hours worked in a day instead of 8 and that double-time not apply until after 60 hours worked in a week, with no double-time for hours worked beyond 10 in a day.

 

• DOWNGRADES—Employers have proposed changes that will allow downgrades even when the performer’s face remains in the commercial, eliminate the requirement to pay a session fee to a downgraded performer and increase the notice period for downgrades from 60 days to 13 weeks.

 

• HOLDING FEE—Employers have proposed to pay holding fees within 10 days of the end of a fixed cycle instead of by the first day of each fixed cycle, as presently required, postponing not only the payment to the performer, but the point at which the performer can accept a competitive commercial.

 

• STUNT PERFORMERS—Employers have proposed narrowing the definition of “stunt” to require an actual hazard to the performer regardless of the level of skill involved. They have also proposed making it even more difficult for stunt performers to file upgrade claims, including a new requirement to file within 48 hours.

 

• SPANISH LANGUAGE—Employers have proposed eliminating the premium Spanish-language performers must be paid to hold their exclusivity in English-language commercials making it even harder for Spanish-language performers to make a living.

 

• UNION LIABILITY—Employers have proposed that the unions pay them a TRIPLE session fee whenever a performer cancels an engagement on less than 24 hours notice and that the unions play an aggressive role in disciplining our own members for breaching exclusivity.

 

Actors Commercials Negotiations Deteriorate

Posted: 17 Mar 2009 10:15 PM PDT

Though it gets less play than the stalled SAG TV/theatrical talks, SAG and AFTRA have been jointly negotiating for several weeks with the advertising industry over the commercials contract. That contract is SAG’s second most important, economically, and represents hundreds of millions of dollars per year to SAG alone (I don’t have the AFTRA figures). Now, after industry statements that the negotiations had been going reasonably well, the talks seem to have hit a snag, and the unions may seek a strike authorization vote from their members, reports The Wrap.

The report goes on to say that the unions have already written—and someone has leaked—a draft letter to be sent to the membership of both unions seeking a strike authorization. A separate report in Blog Stage adds that the letter would also include a separate set of pro-authorization talking points, also leaked. (See below for copies of the letter and talking points.) That report cautions that the leaks may be just a negotiating ploy. A statement from SAG and AFTRA described the leak as an “unauthorized distribution of . . . one of many contingency documents that we prepare in the course of any negotiations.”

Nonetheless, I’m guessing the leaks are a trial balloon intended to pressure the Joint Policy Committee, or JPC, representing the advertisers and ad agencies. If the JPC doesn’t move on the issues and if the union membership doesn’t rebel at the idea of an authorization, then we may indeed see an authorization put to a vote of the members. (It’s important to remember that an authorization does not automatically mean a strike, especially since the more strike-averse AFTRA is part of the mix, unlike with the SAG TV/theatrical negotiations, where the more strike-happy hardliners were unconstrained last year.)

So, will the JPC move on the issues in the absence of a strike authorization? Apparently, they often play hardball until a strike authorization vote is held, note the Hollywood Reporter. That seems especially likely today, since the JPC recognizes that SAG is now a fatigued and overextended union, thanks largely to the hardliners’ stalling tactics last year and into January.
 

Those tactics have left SAG actors with virtually no studio theatrical work since June 30 of last year, no increase in minimum compensation levels for TV work (and the theatrical work that does exist), a dramatically diminished share of pilots, and a panoply of expired contracts in other areas. All of this, combined with the state of the economy, leaves SAG members more vulnerable and less likely to support a strike. (AFTRA actors are likewise vulnerable, if for no other reason than the fact that most of them are SAG members as well.) The result is less leverage at the bargaining table for the unions, and more for the JPC.

Speaking of issues, let’s look at the major ones. The fundamental roadblocks are (1) new media and (2) the economy. New media, of course, had been the major stumbling block in the negotiations between SAG and the studios before being at least partially eclipsed by the issue of contract expiration date. Among other things, the current commercials contract apparently has no minimums in new media. The unions want to change that.

As for the economy, it’s reared its ugly hydra-head in several ways. For one thing, the JPC has apparently yet to make an offer regarding wage increases. When they do, don’t count on it to make the unions happy.

On another economic front, the recession has decreased the value of pension plan and individual retirement assets everywhere. In addition, economists worry now about deflation of prices generally, but one area that still features high prices is health care. In this environment of benefits-related anxiety, the JPC is apparently seeking rollbacks and caps on the companies’ contributions to the unions’ pension and health funds. The unions, not surprisingly, want an increase in those contributions.

(Side note: P&H rollbacks also feature in the campaign by some members of IATSE, the union that represents most crew members, to derail that union’s proposed contract with the studios. Ballots are due back tomorrow, March 18—or perhaps have to be postmarked by then, I’m unclear—but either way, we’ll soon know the fate of that agreement. It’s expected to pass.)

Yet another significant issue is a proposal by the JPC to dramatically alter the way residuals are paid for national commercials—so-called Class A residuals. This comes in response to declining viewership of national ads due both to commercial-skipping by DVR users and to audience fragmentation, i.e., viewer migration away from network TV and towards cable TV, video games and the Internet.
 

The JPC says that its proposal is revenue neutral but simply changes allocations—in other words, that some union members would gain (those doing cable and Internet commercials), others would lose (those doing national broadcast network commercials), but as a whole they would receive the same amount of residuals in aggregate. (The same amount as what? As today? As under the union proposal? I don’t have the details, because there’s a news blackout.) The unions appear skeptical.

There’s a multi-way struggle here, by the way, because actors (and other production expenses) are only one aspect of the advertising cost structure. The other, of course, is the cost to air the ads—i.e., the prices that the networks and other outlets charge. That means that the more the networks push to maintain ad prices in the face of declining viewership and a softening ad market (which results from the slackening demand for consumer products), the less money the advertisers can afford to spend on production. Thus, they put the squeeze on actors. In a struggle between networks and actors for piece of the advertisers’ purse, guess who’s likely to win.

So, theatrical production is stalled and likely to stay depressed even after (if?) the stalemate ends, scripted television is eroding, advertising is soft, and the Internet pays everyone (producers and talent alike) mere pennies on the dollar. What’s a thesp to do? “Keep your day job” is too flip a response, but it sure isn’t an easy time to be an actor.

———————

In other Hollywood labor news, Variety reports that SAG interim National Executive Director David White sent SAG members a message today stating that, although no new formal talks with the studios are set, union negotiators are working behind the scenes to achieve a deal. No word on what exactly that means,

Meanwhile, SAG president Alan Rosenberg’s lawsuit against his own union slowly winds its way through the legal system. Rosenberg ’s lawyers filed some documents last week. I doubt they’re significant, but don’t know, because I haven’t seen them. The lawsuit seems, at least for now, to be a mere sideshow, but even defeats at both the lower court and appellate level haven’t deterred Rosenberg and his fellow plaintiffs (1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord) from pursuing their now-moot claims.

In another development, the WGA is cutting 10% of its staff, Variety reports. The causes: (1) a recession-caused decline in value of the WGA’s investment portfolio; (2) a reduction in dues-generating work for WGA members, due to last year’s writers strike and no doubt exacerbated by the slow decline in scripted television; and (3) expenses incurred in the so-far unsuccessful attempts to organize reality TV and animation. The WGA had no comment, says Variety.

———————

Here’s the draft letter. The underlined text at the beginning was in the letter as provided; it was not written by me.

 

POTENTIAL DRAFT LETTER FROM UNIONS RE: STRIKE AUTHORIZATION… IF PROGRESS IS NOT MADE, THEY WILL SEEK A STRIKE AUTHORIZATION VOTE FROM MEMBERS.

 

2009 COMMERCIALS CONTRACTS

Strike Authorization Ballot

 

To All Members of Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA:

 

Your AFTRA and SAG Presidents, Joint Board of Directors and Joint Negotiating Committee urge you to read this vital report, VOTE YES and mail your ballot today authorizing your Joint Board of Directors to call a strike in the field of television and radio commercials ONLY IF IT BECOMES ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to achieve fair and equitable successor agreements.

 

PLEASE NOTE that these negotiations cover all AFTRA and SAG principal and extra performers employed in English and Spanish television and radio commercials. Employment in the following contract areas IS NOT affected by these negotiations: theatrical films, television and radio programs, news, industrial/educational and non-broadcast productions, sound recordings, music videos, interactive programs/video games and entertainment programs made for the Internet or New Media.

 

In today’s economy, SAG and AFTRA members need strong contracts more than ever. The industry is proposing major rollbacks that include:

 

• Significant changes to the compensation model

• A “pilot study” that tests ONLY the industry’s preferred compensation model without an equal study of the unions’ preferred compensation model

• Debilitating reductions in contributions to our P&H and H&R plans

 

Since February 23, your joint AFTRA/SAG negotiating team has been bargaining in New York City with the Joint Policy Committee (JPC) of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) for new, three-year contracts covering the terms of your employment in television and radio commercials. From the first day of the negotiations, it has been our intention to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides. The issues at stake in these negotiations are critically important and require that we bring our full bargaining power to the table by passing this referendum to authorize a strike in the field of television and radio commercials.

 

In 2006, the Industry invoked language in the Commercials Contracts that required the Unions to explore alternate methods of compensation for principal performers in commercials. This led to a seven month, $1.3 million study by the consulting firm of Booz Allen Hamilton (now called Booz & Co.) commissioned jointly by the Industry and the Unions. Booz & Co. recommended a number of alternative methods of compensation including an “Adjusting Tiers” proposal that the Unions favor and a Gross Ratings Points (GRP) proposal favored by the Industry. Booz & Co. also made recommendations regarding the Internet and New Media, including the elimination of free bargaining, which is favored by the unions.

 

Your joint negotiating team has sought to continue the cooperative approach to this process that the Unions have exhibited from the very beginning. The JPC, however, has insisted that the only compensation model open to further exploration is the GRP model – the industry’s favored option. The Industry has also proposed an accelerated timetable for a “pilot study” to test their GRP proposal. At the conclusion of this study, our ability to agree to implementation of the new system would be taken away from us and placed in the hands of a third party consultant.

 

While your joint negotiating team believes it is important to be open minded about the possibilities for adapting our contracts to changing times, we strongly feel that any changes to our basic compensation structure must be pursued with care and deliberation. Further, any changes should only considered after full and unfettered analysis by the unions of the results of a pilot study that evaluates BOTH the Industry’s favored option and ours. We also believe it is important to act on Booz & Co.’s recommendation to eliminate free bargaining and establish minimums for commercials made for the Internet and New Media—a subject the Industry has not addressed.

 

At the same time, the Industry has demanded debilitating rollbacks in contributions to our P&H and H&R plans. By once again proposing a “cap” on contributions, the Industry threatens to eliminate tens of millions of dollars in contributions from our Plans, just as the Plans are suffering through the fallout of the current recession. The Industry also seeks to change the way contributions are made on multiservice contracts, which could even further reduce contributions to the Plans.

 

The AFTRA and SAG commercials contracts provide an important and often critical source of income to thousands of our members across the country. The national commercials contracts set rates and benefits for national commercials and ad campaigns in the major markets and across the country. The SAG and AFTRA commercials contracts support more of our members and their families than almost any other contract.

 

Your joint negotiating team is fully aware of the economic realities we are facing today and the challenges of negotiating in such an environment. However, rollbacks of this magnitude have such negative consequences that they must be met with determination and conviction from our members.

 

Your joint negotiating team will continue to fight for a fair contract and we hope to achieve such a contract without a work stoppage. Management must know, however, that you the members of AFTRA and SAG stand firm and united in your resolve to obtain equitable commercials contracts that do not decimate or negatively affect either of our Health or Pension Plans.

 

Your YES vote on the enclosed strike authorization ballot is necessary to send a strong message of clarity, strength and solidarity to management.

 

———————

Here are the unions’ talking points.

 

EMPLOYER RESPONSE TO UNIONS’ PROPOSALS:

 

• BASIC WAGES—Employers have made no wage offer.

 

• PENSION, HEALTH AND RETIREMENT—Despite the potentially devastating impact of the declining global markets on our Plans, the Employers have offered no increases in contributions and continue to press for “caps,” which will cost our Plans more than $60 million.

 

• CABLE—Employers have not responded to the Unions’ proposal to remove the “cap” on cable units despite a finding by Booz & Co. that cable is greatly undervalued [OR: “is an area of tremendous growth and earnings for advertisers.”]. Nor have they responded to the Unions’ proposal to extend exclusivity and holding fees to cover commercials made for national cable networks.

 

• INTERNET & NEW MEDIA—Employers have not addressed the Unions’ proposals for fair payment structures to replace the current experimental “free bargaining” approach to the Internet & New Media, which fails to provide any minimums at all.

 

• MONITORING—Employers have not responded to the Unions’ comprehensive proposal on monitoring.

 

• LIQUIDATED DAMAGES FOR LATE PAYMENT—Employers have not responded to the Unions’ proposal to increase damages for late payment of wages for the first time since 1978.

 

• SPANISH LANGUAGE—Employers have responded to the Unions’ proposal to rectify the decades-old refusal to pay “Class A” use fees for commercials on Spanish Language networks by proposing to roll back existing protections for Spanish Language performers.

 

• PREFERENCE & EXTRA COVERAGE ZONES—Employers have not responded to the Unions’ proposal to apply the contract to extra performers and to require preference of employment for professional performers in Charlotte , North Carolina and Austin , Texas .

 

• STUNT DRIVERS—Unions have proposed that Employers pay stunt drivers residuals when they sell the Employer’s product. Employers have responded by proposing to narrow the circumstances when stunt performers are entitled to residuals and to make it more difficult for them to file upgrade claims.

 

• SINGERS, DANCERS & CHOREOGRAPHERS—Employers have not addressed the Unions’ proposals to improve working conditions for dancers, to protect singers against automatic renewal at old rates, and to provide a limited ability for choreographers who have done covered work in at least 5 prior years to earn eligibility for benefits.

 

EMPLOYER ROLLBACKS:

 

• ELIMINATE “CLASS A”—Employers have proposed a radical, untested new system for compensating performers in national commercials that eliminates the current “Class A” payment structure, as well as the current structure for national cable commercials.

 

• DECREASE CONTRIBUTIONS TO PENSION, HEALTH, AND RETIREMENT BY OVER $20 MILLION—Employers have proposed implementing a “cap” over which they would not make contributions to P&H or H&R. This will cost the Plans at least $20 million at a time when they are already suffering due to the bad economy. Employers have also proposed changes in how contributions are made on multiservice contracts that will likely further reduce contributions.

 

• OVERTIME—Employers have proposed that overtime apply only after 10 hours worked in a day instead of 8 and that double-time not apply until after 60 hours worked in a week, with no double-time for hours worked beyond 10 in a day.

 

• DOWNGRADES—Employers have proposed changes that will allow downgrades even when the performer’s face remains in the commercial, eliminate the requirement to pay a session fee to a downgraded performer and increase the notice period for downgrades from 60 days to 13 weeks.

 

• HOLDING FEE—Employers have proposed to pay holding fees within 10 days of the end of a fixed cycle instead of by the first day of each fixed cycle, as presently required, postponing not only the payment to the performer, but the point at which the performer can accept a competitive commercial.

 

• STUNT PERFORMERS—Employers have proposed narrowing the definition of “stunt” to require an actual hazard to the performer regardless of the level of skill involved. They have also proposed making it even more difficult for stunt performers to file upgrade claims, including a new requirement to file within 48 hours.

 

• SPANISH LANGUAGE—Employers have proposed eliminating the premium Spanish-language performers must be paid to hold their exclusivity in English-language commercials making it even harder for Spanish-language performers to make a living.

 

• UNION LIABILITY—Employers have proposed that the unions pay them a TRIPLE session fee whenever a performer cancels an engagement on less than 24 hours notice and that the unions play an aggressive role in disciplining our own members for breaching exclusivity. 

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