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June 3, 2009

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

 

Digital Media Law

 

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

Posted: 29 Apr 2009 02:19 AM PDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SAG STALEMATE UPDATE (APR. 17, 2009)

Digital Media Law  
SAG Stalemate Update

Posted: 17 Apr 2009 08:43 AM PDT

The Screen Actors Guild stalemate grinds on. Variety says there are back-channel talks with studio heads, but it’s hard to know whether talks are actually in progress or, if any, how substantive they are. These rumors have persisted off and on for almost two months at least.

Causing the stalemate is the issue of contract expiration date rather than new media; there’s talk of a trade-off between this issue and the (unrelated) SAG demand for force majeure payments per the previous SAG agreement. Meanwhile, the passage of time itself threatens to generate new roadblocks.

The SAG Board is meeting this weekend, and Variety suggests a proposed TV/theatrical deal might be presented to the Board then. I’m skeptical, but you never know. The SAG story has had a surprise around every corner, although for the last year, stalemate has unfortunately been the one constant.

What is known is that the SAG and AFTRA boards will spend part of the weekend meeting jointly to review the proposed commercials contract, a deal reached earlier this month between the two unions and the ad industry. That deal, a good one for labor, has garnered little opposition and is expected to be approved overwhelmingly, first by the two boards, then by the two unions’ membership, a process that will take several weeks.

In contrast, the TV/theatrical deal—even though there isn’t one—has garnered opposition. The MembershipFirst hardliners have pledged to oppose any deal endorsed by the current leadership, in part because of new media issues. A small band of MF-ers, in groups of 50-100, have been protesting the nonexistent deal in small weekly rallies around town for the past 6-8 weeks. That group is led by Scott Wilson, and has included, from time to time, SAG President Alan Rosenberg, 1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson, former national board alternate David Jolliffe, and even twice-ousted National Executive Director Doug Allen.

Speaking of Johnson and Jolliffe, they are two of the several dozen candidates in the upcoming AFTRA national and LA board elections. MF, which bitterly opposes merger between SAG and AFTRA and burns with hatred for AFTRA, has adopted a strategy of attempting to attack merger from within AFTRA itself—not that AFTRA is likely to be keen to merge with SAG at this point anyway, given the turmoil the Guild has endured at the hands of MF for over a year.

Thus, as Variety points out, MF-ers Bonnie Bartlett, Frances Fisher and Sumi Haru currently sit on both the SAG and AFTRA national boards. MF candidates in the upcoming AFTRA elections, in addition to Johnson and Jolliffe, include Steven Barr and David Clennon. Ballots will be mailed May 8 and due back June 3.

The AFTRA press release is below.

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AFTRA press release:
American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO
Los Angeles , California (April 16, 2009)—The Los Angeles Local of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists—the people who entertain and inform America—announced the complete list of candidates for its 2009 election of Los Angeles Officers and Board members, Los Angeles-based National Board members, and delegates to the 2009 AFTRA National Convention.
All seven incumbent AFTRA Los Angeles Officers were named candidates for re-election by the AFTRA Los Angeles Nominating Committee and will run unopposed for additional two-year terms. They include Los Angeles President Ron Morgan; First Vice President Susan Boyd Joyce; Second Vice President Gabrielle Carteris; Third Vice President Bobbie Bates; Fourth Vice President Jason George; Recording Secretary Patrika Darbo; and Treasurer Jay Gerber.
A total of 22 AFTRA Los Angeles Board seats are up for election with candidates either having been selected by the Los Angeles Nominating Committee or qualifying for the ballot by Nominating Petition. Actors named by the Nominating Committee to fill 11openings include incumbents David Bowe, Raza Burgee, Andrew Caple-Shaw, Gabrielle Carteris, Bob Joles, and Kate Linder, along with David Andriole, Mimi Cozzens, Sandra de Bruin, James Schneider, and Marcia Strassman. Qualifying for the ballot by Nominating Petition are incumbent actors Nancy Daly and Paul Napier, joined by actor David Jolliffe.
Incumbent announcer Mike Sakellarides and announcer Chuck Southcott were named by the Nominating Committee as candidates to fill two vacancies representing that category. Dancer Galen Hooks, also an incumbent Board member, was named as a candidate by the Nominating Committee to fill one vacancy in that category.
Candidates to fill two singer vacancies are incumbents Susan Boyd Joyce and Dick Wells, both also selected by the Nominating Committee. Incumbent broadcaster Pepe Barreto was named by the Nominating Committee as a candidate for re-election representing the newsperson category with two additional newsperson seats remaining to be filled. There are also three vacancies representing the sportscaster category to be filled.
Thirteen seats representing Los Angeles on AFTRA’s National Board are up for election, with one seat guaranteed for Los Angeles Announcers and one for Los Angeles Newspersons. The remaining 11 seats will be filled based on the plurality of votes received. All National Board candidates qualified for the ballot by Nominating Petition. Candidates include incumbents Bobbie Bates, Susan Boyd Joyce, Gabrielle Carteris, Jay Gerber, Ron Morgan, Paul Petersen, and Sally Stevens. Also running are members Granville Ames, Steven Barr, L. Scott Caldwell, David Clennon, Milo Edwards, Carole Elliott, Anne-Marie Johnson, D. W. Moffett, Jason Priestley, Elizabeth Reynolds, and Alan Ruck.
Officer and Board Candidates will have the opportunity to address the membership at the AFTRA Los Angeles annual “Meet the Candidates” forum on Wednesday evening, April 29, at the union’s headquarters.
Los Angeles members will also elect 198 delegates to represent their performing categories at the 2009 AFTRA National Convention scheduled for August 6-8 in Chicago , Illinois .
Ballots will be mailed on May 8 with a voting deadline of June 3. Elected Los Angeles Officers and Board members will begin their terms July 1. National Board members begin their four-year terms at the conclusion of this summer’s National Convention.

SAG & STUDIOS AGREE TO TENTATIVE DEAL (APR. 18, 2009)

Saturday, April 18, 2009
SAG & Studios Agree to Tentative Deal
 

The Screen Actors Guild and the AMPTP (alliance representing studios and producers) reached tentative agreement on a two-year TV/theatrical contract, potentially ending a ten-month stalemate that halted production of most studio movies and put thousands of people out of work.

The deal will probably be approved by the SAG board today or tomorrow and ratified by the membership by mid-May, but the hardline MembershipFirst faction has vowed to fight the deal, so ratification, although likely, is not assured. Assuming the deal is in fact ratified (which takes a 50% majority), the stalemate would be over by mid-May. Some production might resume before then, in anticipation of ratification, but this is unknown.

In separate news today, the SAG and AFTRA boards meeting jointly approved the commercials contract reached April 1 with the advertising industry. Ratification ballots will go out to the members of both unions next week, with a return date in mid-May. The deal has wide support among the leadership and is expected to pass easily.

Back to the tentative TV/theatrical deal: Critically, this deal would expire on June 30, 2011, effectively synchronizing it with the Writers Guild, Directors Guild and AFTRA (smaller actors union) deals. That means all four unions will be able to coordinate negotiations and strategy, even to the point of threatening a joint strike by two (WGA and SAG) or three (WGA, SAG and AFTRA) of the unions. (The DGA has essentially never gone on strike, and AFTRA seldom does.)

This synchronicity should give the unions significant leverage, which raises the question of why the studios agreed to it. Probably they needed to restart theatrical film production soon in order to have movies for 2010. That would seem to be the only pressure point SAG had, since the union was widely understood to be unable to strike (a strike authorization would have taken a 75% affirmative vote of those voting, and the union didn’t even seek such a vote for fear of failing).

The gain—synchronicity—came at a price to SAG, however. The new deal compromises the force majeure claims SAG has pending from the 2007-2008 WGA strike. These are claims by actors for lost wages due to the strike, and amount to tens of millions of dollars. It’s unknown as yet how much will be foregone. Also, since the claims were the subject of a pending arbitration process, it’s unknowable how much SAG would have gotten if it had continued to pursue the claims. Thus, it’s hard to calculate the dollar cost of the compromise. The new deal also modifies the force majeure language in the union contract, but the details are unknown.

The deal includes no changes in new media from the AMPTP’s February offer, according to sources. That offer, in turn, is essentially the same as the new media provisions that the DGA, WGA, and AFTRA (in two separate deals) agreed to. (IATSE’s new media provisions are similar in several respects as well.) No change was expected by anyone, yet, ironically, new media was the reason the hardliners stalemated for ten months in a futile attempt to improve on the template accepted in the other five union deals.

The deal will take effect upon ratification, and includes an immediate 3.0% increase in minimum pay rates plus a 0.5% increase in pension and health contributions. A year later, there will be an additional 3.5% increase in minimums, which will run through contract expiration.

In contrast, AFTRA members have been enjoying a 3.5% increase for the last ten months (when AFTRA did its deal), and will receive their 3.0% + 0.5% bump on June 30 of this year. That means that for virtually the entire contract period, AFTRA rates will be about 3.5% higher than SAG’s. In other words, the new deal does not give SAG a double increase in order to catch up with AFTRA.

If SAG wants to ever catch up, they’ll have to seek a double increase in 2011, but that will involve giving up some other issue that SAG would otherwise have negotiated for, and in any case a double increase in 2011 would not be retroactive to the 2009-2011 period. This is part of the damage that the hardliners inflicted on the union.

Speaking of retroactivity, that’s an element that, not surprisingly, this deal doesn’t include either. That means that SAG actors who worked in TV over the last ten months will not receive makeup payments to bring them up to higher minimum pay levels that they would have received if the deal had been done promptly. This also is a result of the delay that MembershipFirst caused by not making a deal almost a year ago. And, of course, the whole issue of expiration date was caused by the hardliners’ delaying tactics.

The deal next goes to the SAG national board tomorrow for approval and then to the members for ratification over a several week period. SAG hardliners will fight the deal—SAG president Alan Rosenberg, 1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson, and former Hollywood board member David Jolliffe are among those who have already spoken in opposition—but I expect it to pass, although not with the over-90% margin the Writer Guild deal did a year ago. The deal will almost certainly go out to the members with a minority statement in opposition. Nonetheless, people are sick of not working and will probably agree that the deal was the best obtainable in a bad economy and with SAG weakened in large part by the hardliners themselves.

One thing that’s clear is that this is a time of enormous change for the Hollywood actors unions. Most immediately, actors have a lot to vote on over the next several months: the commercials contract, the TV/theatrical contract, the AFTRA Board elections, and then the SAG presidential and Board elections, the latter of which are expected to run from July through September.

In addition, several of the Hollywood unions’ pension and/or health plans have made cutbacks (AFTRA, AFM, and IATSE), due to the stock market collapse and to the continued increases in health care costs. Also, SAGWatch reports today that SAG itself is in difficult financial straits, due to MembershipFirst’s mismanagement: loss of union dues due to the production slowdown over the last 10 months, departure of television work to AFTRA due in large part to SAG’s internal strife, the expenses of futile battles with AFTRA and internally, and, most significantly, alleged bloated hiring practices that added 100 staff members to the union payroll. Layoffs are apparently expected, and the LA Times is reporting today that the union has a deficit exceeding $6 million.

SAG’s new leaders have difficult work to do on various other contracts that expired or were ignored on MembershipFirst’s watch, including the franchise agreement between SAG and the town’s talent agents, which expired seven years ago. Then there’s the perennial question of SAG-AFTRA merger, which will probably be a factor in the upcoming SAG elections, as will vituperative arguments about the new TV/theatrical deal and the responsibility for the large-scale decline in SAG’s power and prestige.

Change isn’t limited to the labor side. The AMPTP’s longtime head, Nick Counter, retired several weeks ago. Also, interestingly, the new TV/theatrical deal was negotiated primarily on an informal basis by key SAG leaders and studio heads, not by formal bargaining between the union and the AMPTP. Although AMPTP acting head Carol Lombardini played a part late in the discussions, this process raises questions as to the future role and effectiveness of that organization.

Hanging over all of this are the twin factors of the economy and new media. The troubled economy will continue to harm the entertainment industry for some time to come. New media will continue to evolve, and will probably roil the unions, and the industry as a whole, for a decade or more.

And, of course, with mid-2011 expiration dates set for the WGA, DGA, AFTRA (two deals) and new SAG deals, negotiations will start again in the towards the end of next year. No rest for the weary, or sleep for the sinful, it seems.

http://digitalmedialaw.blogspot.com/2009/04/sag-studios-agree-to-tentative-deal.html

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June 2, 2009

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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. 

Report from Crazytown (letter) by Mike Farrell (From MASH as BJ Honeycut) (Feb. 8, 2009)

Report from Crazytown February 8, 2009 Because the board of the Hollywood Division of SAG now allows members from its area to attend board meetings (after signing a form about no-no’s), I thought it would be worthwhile to see if they’d let me in to watch the February 2nd meeting last week.  This was the first meeting scheduled after National Executive Director Doug Allen was fired by the National Board and replaced by Interim NED David White, who I knew when he was SAG’s General Counsel from 2002 to 2006. 

Because Doug Allen’s hard-nosed style made him the champion and the favorite of the Membership First faction that hired him, and because said faction continues to control the Hollywood Board even after losing control of the National Board in the last election, this meeting, being David White’s first as NED promised to be interesting.

To set the stage, as it were… Membership First is the current name of the faction that, in essence, split our union into ‘political’ groups. Organizing an effort to assert control over the Guild in the 90s, this group succeeded in defeating then-President Richard Masur and installing William Daniels, their titular head, as president.  The Daniels Administration led us into the commercials strike of 2000, torpedoed a Masur-led effort to solve problems between SAG and the ATA (the collection of agents representing most of the working actors), re-wrote the Guild’s constitution and, in general, disdained and tried to minimize the input, effect and value of members in the New York and Regional Branch Divisions of our national union.

This Hollywood-centric group, operating under different names but known in recent years as Membership First (MF), has demonstrated a proclivity for tactics and rhetoric that have caused it to be referred to in the media as the ‘militant’ faction of SAG.

In the years my wife, Shelley Fabares, and I served as National Board members and on the Hollywood Division Board (Approx. 2001 – 2005) – Shelley for three years on both Boards and I for three years as SAG’s First VP under President Melissa Gilbert and one year as a National and Hollywood Board member – we worked hard, along with allies in Hollywood, New York and the Regional Branch Division, to repair what we saw as the damage done by the attitudes, choices and behaviors of the Hollywood-centric-types who continued to be a loud and often obstructionist presence in the union by dint of their strength on the Hollywood Board.

During our terms, for example, they sabotaged an agreement we negotiated with the ATA agents, waged a dishonest campaign that just barely kept the consolidation and Affiliation agreement (that would have merged AFTRA and SAG and averted our current problems) from succeeding, and made life so desirable for our bright, inventive and gutsy NED, Bob Pisano, that he decided to step aside and allow the position to be taken over by the terrific man who had been running AFTRA, Greg Hessinger.

In the 2005 elections, Membership First achieved its long-sought goal by attaining enough votes in Hollywood to give it control over the majority of the Guild’s National Board, with the single voice of moderation in Hollywood provided by the incredibly courageous Morgan Fairchild, who has maintained her seat, and somehow her sanity, in the ensuing years.

The first National Board meeting under this new majority and its president, Alan Rosenberg, engineered the firing of Greg Hessinger and the abrogation of the contracts of two executives he had hired, acts that cost the Guild’s members hundreds of thousands of dollars and a significant portion of the union’s already-battered reputation. 

Deteriorating relations with New York and the Branches were then exacerbated by the hiring of Doug Allen and a new, even more assertive posture for the Guild. This new energy resulted in the quick, embarrassing defeat of Mr. Allen’s attempt to force the ATA agents into an agreement, assaults on AFTRA that nearly destroyed SAG’s 30-year-old Phase One relationship with that sister union, a now 7-months-long stalemate in negotiations between SAG and the AMPTP, the infamous attempt to scuttle AFTRA’s contract with the AMPTP, and a wasteful, expensive, tone-deaf campaign for a strike authorization in the midst of our country’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

The growing confusion, upset and dissatisfaction of the membership then resulted in the election, last September, of a significant number of independent, non-MF actors to the Hollywood board.  Coalescing as Unite for Strength – their primary focus reuniting with AFTRA – these new faces on the Hollywood Board joined with Morgan Fairchild to bring a different, more rational energy to the National Board’s majority.  

In the first meeting of the newly-constituted National Board on January 12th, 13th, they put forth a motion to fire NED Doug Allen and disband the Membership-First-dominated negotiating committee that had been unable to complete an agreement with the AMPTP.  This effort by the majority was frustrated by a series of parliamentary tricks and filibustering that refused to allow a vote on the measure.  This unprecedented attempt to frustrate the will of the majority, orchestrated by the now-minority MFs and abetted by the Chair, President Alan Rosenberg, succeed in making SAG an industry-wide laughing stock by creating a 28-hour board meeting at which no business was allowed to be done.  None.

Told that any future attempts to assert their authority and fire Doug Allen would meet the same impasse, the Board majority used a little-known constitutional owner granting them the authority to act outside a meeting and, on about January 26th, presented a “written assent” signed by the majority of SAG’s National Board members to the Guild’s legal counsel.  This document, verified and accepted by SAG’s counsel and outside advisers, fired Doug Allen, installed David White as Interim NED, disbanded the negotiating committee, replaced it with a Task Force made up of members from all divisions, and named John McGuire, a 40-year SAG staff member and veteran negotiator, as the Guild’s chief negotiator.

As you might imagine, President Rosenberg, 1st VP Ann-Marie Johnson and their MF colleagues were not happy.  Thus, my interest in attending the February 2nd Hollywood Board meeting.

Told that the MFs had arranged for a protest demonstration outside the SAG offices before the meeting and had asked their supporters to stack the list of spectators, I tried to get on the list and failed. Hearing that one could wait in line and be admitted if the available seats were not all filled, former National Board member and Guild Treasurer James Cromwell and I went to the SAG offices early and stood in the Stand-By line hoping to be allowed in.

When the demonstration outside concluded, many of those in or watching it came into the lobby and joined us in line. Some were from the stunt community and some were background actors, two constituencies the MFs have formed ties with. As we waited, a few of them engaged us in conversation, questioning how we could support an end to residuals, the “gagging” of President Rosenberg, the illegal firing of Mr. Allen, and a list of terribles they had been told by their MF leaders. We explained, over time, that none of this was true and some of them actually listened.  We learned, as well, that a lawsuit and request for a temporary restraining order were being filed by President Rosenberg, VP Ann-Marie Johnson and two MF National Board members, Kent McCord, and Diane Ladd, challenging the firing of Doug Allen. Did I say obstructionist?

We were allowed into the crowded meeting, given further instructions as to what visitors could not do, and then brought into the Cagney Room to be seated. The meeting began forty minutes late, due, we were told, to the unusual number of visitors this evening.  VP Ann-Marie Johnson, an intelligent and articulate woman, chaired the meeting, explained what would take place, and then asked staff, board members and the visitors each to introduce themselves.  After a couple of pieces of routine business, Ms. Johnson read the statement of the chair (the VP chairs the Division meetings, President Rosenberg chairs only National Board meetings), which was interesting.  With new Interim NED David White to her immediate left, she spoke strongly against the action of the majority (without mentioning the lawsuit she was filing) and lauded the no-longer-employed Doug Allen as the strongest and best leader and negotiator in SAG’s history.  This, of course, was met with wild applause from the MF majority and many in the peanut gallery around us.

I don’t recall if it was before or after the statement of the chair, but Ilyanne Kichaven, Hollywood’s Executive Director, made an eloquent pitch for unity which was roundly applauded and quickly forgotten. Next, Ms. Johnson introduced David White, explaining that he would speak, the floor would be open for questions, and then she would allow statements from the members.

David White gave a brief account of his background; acknowledged that he knew many of those on the board from his years as General Counsel, spoke a bit about his personal philosophy, his view of and affection for the Guild, and how he intended to fulfill his obligations as Interim NED.   He kept it short and left the rest of the time for questions.

As expected, it was a grilling. The questions were quickly reminiscent of the “are you now or have you ever been” era.  Who approached you about taking this job?  I want names!  When did they approach you?  On what date?  You were hired as Legal Counsel by Bob Pisano: do you have a continuing relationship with Bob Pisano: did Bob Pisano arrange for you to get this job?  Have you spoken with Bob Pisano about the job?  What is the nature of your relationship with Bob Pisano?

Clearly, they thought they could tar David with an association to someone they hate – and because they hate him they think everyone else does.  But David was great.  He explained, patiently, that he worked for the law firm that Pisano had met with and was hired for the job.

No, he said, Pisano did not have anything to do with his being offered this job.

Then, when the interrogator asked if Pisano had called him, he said, “Yes.  After word got out that I had agreed to take the job, Bob Pisano called me and said, “What the hell are you doing?’”

It got a great laugh.  Try as they could, they couldn’t rile him and over time only made themselves look smaller and more petty. Because each questioner had a limited time, it quickly became clear that there was a prepared list of questions – a kind of script – that was passed along from one MF to the other, all intending to expose what they saw as a gross conspiracy perpetrated by evildoers that had stripped them of their champion, not to mention their majority.  The toxic tone in the room quickly took me back to our time on the board, a period rife with personal attacks, lies, power plays and histrionics.  After one of our first meetings, I remember Shelley, exhausted and near tears, saying, “These people claim to be union supporters, Democrats, but they behave like the Bush Administration!”

What was wonderful was watching David White respond, calmly, clearly, patiently, to each question, brushing aside the sarcasm and the lousy implications and giving the facts as he knew them. They wanted to know how much he was being paid and who had negotiated his contract, to which he said his contract was only now being negotiated.  When he started to answer the question about his salary he was interrupted by SAG’s General Counsel, Duncan Crabtree, who pointed out to the board members that some of this information was inappropriate for an open meeting and should only be discussed in Executive Session.

After the interminable questions ended, having been lightened only by a few welcoming notes offered by some of the non-MF members, Ann-Marie called an end to the questions and opened the floor to statements. And now it got nasty. Possibly because David had handled his end of things so well, many of the questions became spears thrown at the non-MF members present and the National Board in general.  How dare they use this illegal device, the “written assent,” to fire Doug Allen?  Did they lack the courage to debate the issue openly and allow everyone to vote on it?

This, it was clear, was for the benefit of their supporters who were avidly listening and applauding every time a nasty shot underscored one of the talking points they’d been fed. Finally, one of the new board members was able to speak to these charges and explain that when they had tried to do just that, to debate the issue in the National Board meeting and vote on it – (at this point the Chair tried to cut him off, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss what had happened at the National Board meeting.  He, however, was not cowed by her and said he had no intention of talking about the business of the meeting and went on, explaining) – they had not been allowed a discussion or a debate for the length of the meeting, which left the ‘written assent’ as their only avenue to achieve the will of the majority.

After this, more MFs claimed Alan Rosenberg had been “gagged.”  How could people who believe in free speech do such a thing, they wanted to know?  But none of them acknowledged, or mentioned, that then Doug Allen was in charge he and Alan Rosenberg would not allow any of the elected officers to speak officially, even to his or her own division members, without having what they wrote edited by Hollywood.  What the written assent did was, in essence, the same thing, saying that Rosenberg could speak or write his own opinion, but no longer could he speak officially for the union without clearing it with the majority.

However, true to form, the next speaker and the next and the next continued the barrage of assaults on the now-hated majority.  They spat out words like “unity” as a curse and swore there would never be unity.  They spewed vitriol on the new members and said those who signed the ‘written assent’ did so in blood. (I don’t remember the exact words, but it was about ‘blood’ on the document.) It was awful. I remember when we were part of the board, trying to explain the level of toxicity in these meetings to other actors and finally coming to the understanding that you actually had to be in the room to “get” it.  And here we were in the room again, getting it. Poor Jamie had his head in his hands half the time.

The harangue ended, finally.  The strategic mistake the new members, the rational members made, I think, was allowing Ann-Marie to cut off the list of speakers when only her MF colleagues were lined up to spew.  It allowed them to dump on David, to harangue the new members and to condemn the written assent and what they called the unfairness, the gagging, the illegality of it all, without any rational response.

When a break was called I walked over to say hello to Morgan and some of the new members.  I could see their shock. This was not something they had experienced before, it appeared, and one of them even told me he was thinking about not coming back.  I encouraged him to stick it out – not only to stick it out but to encourage his friends to run for board seats this year so the rational voices could take Hollywood back.

Jamie and I left, shaking our heads at the behavior of these people once again.  But maybe, we said, just maybe if enough people care about their union to put in some time, we can get it back on the rails.

The next day, as you know, Rosenberg, et al’s suit and request for a TRO were filed.  That knocked the scheduled reopening of negotiations with the AMPTP off the tracks again.  A couple of days later the judge refused the restraining order and said he thought the lawsuit had little chance of success.  Rosenberg’s lawyer said they’d appeal. But today, I hear, the National Board met once again and, after another attempt at filibuster, the majority succeeded in passing all the ‘written assent’ motions in a meeting, so the negotiations are again rumored to begin this month. It’s your union.

Mike

 

SAG member’s option on VP Anne Marie Johnson (Mar. 7, 2009)

Filed under: Entertainment — showbizreporting @ 5:47 pm
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In their response to Anne Marie Johnson’s column in the Call Sheet, U4S answers her charges and gives insight into where we are in the negotiation process (previously sent and posted).  They address the meat of the issue clearly; therefore, I will not reiterate.  Here, I focus briefly on the overarching issue of lack of accountability in our dues-funded, Official SAG Communications.

 

Here is something I learned that I did not previously know. Six issues of the Hollywood newsletter, the Call Sheet are mailed per year.  This is a fat 12 pages with a lot of material simply lifted and repeated from the national newsletter, the Screen Actor, plus a message from the Hollywood First VP.   Four issues of the national Screen Actor, which goes to the entire membership, are mailed per per year.  What is wrong with this picture?  So much.  But let us look at just two issues: a waste of our dollars, and misusing Guild resources for politicking.

The ever (even sometimes annoyingly) moderate UFS board members did not take issue with Anne Marie’s use of the Call sheet as a bully pulpit, perhaps owing to her “right” as the VP to communicate her opinion.  Well, I beg to differ.  It is not a right – it is a privilege; and it is one that she participated in denying to two other elected officers of the Guild in previous issues of Guild Communications.  We need some accountability about the management of this tool of communication.

Finally, Anne Marie implies that Hollywood members deserve more of a say by virtue of how much we earn under this contract, pitting those who earn more against those who earn less.  This not only contradicts her disdain for affected voting, it also flies squarely in the face of her very public disgust with the high-earning members who have recently chosen to speak their minds on the matter of this contract.

Unlike those in the minority before her, Anne Marie was given the freedom to say whatever she wished in an official publication of the Guild. 

I think it stinks.

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