Showbizreporting's Blog

December 8, 2009

SAG, AFTRA FACE DEADLINE

SAG, AFTRA face deadline
Unions must decide soon if they are to negotiate together
By DAVE MCNARY

The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists are facing a looming deadline within the next few months if they’re going to negotiate together on the primetime-feature contract with the majors.
The performers unions haven’t yet taken any formal steps toward joint bargaining, even with SAG obligated to begin seven weeks of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers on Oct. 1. The current SAG and AFTRA master contracts — negotiated separately for the first time in three decades — both expire on June 30, 2011.

AFTRA president Roberta Reardon has held informal discussions recently with SAG prexy Ken Howard about the issue. She admitted that a decision by AFTRA will probably be made before the end of the first quarter, given that both unions require several months for a “wages and working conditions” process of meetings with members to hammer out contract proposals prior to the start of bargaining.

“We’ve had a lot of internal discussion about joint negotiations but we haven’t formalized anything,” she told Daily Variety. “We would do it if it were something that’s to the advantage of all our members.”

SAG declined to comment on Reardon’s statements.

Reardon noted that AFTRA’s also facing looming expirations on two of its other major contracts — sound recordings, which expires June 30; and network code, which ends on Nov. 15. The AFTRA netcode pact covers about $400 million in annual earnings from dramatic programs in syndication or outside primetime, daytime serial dramas, gameshows, talkshows, variety and musical programs, news, sports, reality shows and promotional announcements.

“We have a little bit of a pileup in terms of scheduling,” Reardon added.

She also said that no definitive steps have been taken toward a SAG-AFTRA merger, voted down by SAG members in 1999 and 2003, indicating that combining the unions remains a long-term goal. “I got into AFTRA politics eight years ago because I believe that performers should be in a single union, but if we’re going to do that, we need to take the time to do it right,” she added.

Relations between SAG and AFTRA hit a low early last year when AFTRA angrily split off from joint negotiations over jurisdiction and reached its own primetime deal. SAG — which still hadn’t shifted control to the moderates — then blasted terms of the pact, which had a relatively low 62% ratification. With SAG not reaching a deal until a year later, AFTRA was able to sign up the lion’s share of this year’s TV pilots that were shot digitally.

In the fall of 2008, AFTRA and SAG agreed to a separate deal aimed at ending the bickering between the unions. Brokered by the AFL-CIO, the agreement included “nondisparagement” language along with fines and other discipline for violators; the unions then agreed to joint negotiations on the commercials contract and reached a new three-year deal with the ad industry last spring.

But the enmity toward AFTRA remains strong in some SAG quarters. Its Hollywood board passed a resolution in May to explore the “acquisition” of actors repped through AFTRA, leading to an AFL-CIO umpire warning SAG it would face “severe” fines for any further discussions of an “acquisition” and ordering the guild to officially disavow the statement.

SAG’s Membership First faction, which controls the Hollywood board, staunchly opposes any merger and contends that SAG should represent all acting work. Howard campaigned as the head of the Unite For Strength ticket, which explicitly advocates combining the unions.

“We should merge to create a single powerful union that covers all the work we do, making it impossible for our employers to divide us,” the faction has noted. “That’s what Unite for Strength is all about.”

SAG and AFTRA have shared jurisdiction over primetime series and the long-standing agreement has been that SAG reps all projects shot on film, while SAG and AFTRA have an equal shot at projects shot electronically. With more primetime skeins shot in high-def digital formats, AFTRA’s electronic purview has greatly expanded in the past two years as nearly all primetime pilots went AFTRA.

http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118012309.html?categoryId=13&cs=1

October 1, 2009

DML SAG Results

SAG: Four Hardline Horsemen in the National Board Room

Posted: 27 Sep 2009 03:29 PM PDT

Thursday’s SAG election was a victory for the moderate coalition. Yet, strangely enough, the leaders of the losing hardline faction will all find seats on the national board, and will continue to be a shadow government within the union’s Hollywood board—a board on which none of the key moderate leaders will be voting members.

Yes, the moderates (Unite for Strength (UFS) / USAN / RBD / independents) won the national offices – President and Secretary-Treasurer – and picked up additional national board seats and many on the Hollywood board as well. But with SAG, the story is never simple.

In fact, paradoxically, 1st VP and failed Membership First presidential candidate Anne-Marie Johnson will probably continue as 1st VP, ex-president Alan Rosenberg will almost certainly be back on the national board in a matter of days despite winning only an alternate seat, MF leader David Joliffe will probably be on the Hollywood board and effectively on the national board, and MF leader Kent McCord continues on the national and Hollywood boards.

Meanwhile, none of the key moderate leaders will be on the Hollywood board— Unite for Strength leaders Ned Vaughn, Assaf Cohen, Ken Howard and Amy Aquino are all off of that board, at least as voting members (the latter two will serve ex-officio, as non-voting members). Tough independent and former presidential candidate Morgan Fairchild remains, but she’s not a member of the UFS slate and thus doesn’t occupy a leadership position in that group. UFS-ers Adam Arkin and Amy Brenneman also remain, and perhaps will emerge to fill the gap.

How could the election yield so much change in the national offices and so little in the Hollywood Division? Here’s the scenario [UPDATED: Para. 3 is new.]:

1. The moderates seemingly have 27 seats on the Hollywood board out of 55 (because 27 = 6 seats pre-election plus 21 additional seats won in the election). That’s a tad less than half (49%). It would seemingly take peeling off one more vote from MF for the moderates to control the Hollywood board.

2. However, look closer. One of those 6 pre-election seats was held by Ken Howard. Under the SAG Constitution and By-Laws, a national officer can’t also be an elected member of the national board or a Divisional board. So, the day he became president, Howard lost his elected seat on the national and Hollywood boards, and, indeed, his name has been replaced on SAG website listings with “(1 TBD).” That leaves the moderates with 26 seats on the Hollywood board out of 54. That’s less than half by an even greater margin (48%). Now it would take 2 more votes, rather than just one, for the moderates to control the Hollywood board.

3. But, when it comes to electing officers (such as 1st VP) or selecting replacements for the Hollywood and national boards, the news is even bleaker for moderates. That’s because the Hollywood Division Rules of Procedure specify that for such purposes, the only Hollywood Division board members who can vote are national board members (or alternates sitting in for them) from the Hollywood Division. There are 32 such people (33 minus the vacant Ken Howard seat). The moderates control only 9 of those seats, whereas MF has 23.

4. So, Membership First controls who the Hollywood board elects, unless 8 MF-ers break ranks. If that doesn’t happen (and it’s not likely), then MF will fill the TBD vacancy. Whom will they select? Almost certainly Alan Rosenberg, whom they would elevate from national board alternate (which is the office he won on Thursday) to full national board member from the Hollywood division.

5. Thus, although Rosenberg ’s presidency was so discredited in many members’ eyes that he couldn’t even win a board seat, he’s likely to end up with one anyway. This would take place at the next Hollywood board meeting, which is scheduled for October 5.

6. Elevating Rosenberg leaves his alternate seat vacant. So, MF would then vote to appoint its longtime leader David Joliffe as a national alternate (and Hollywood board member). That effectively appoints him to the national board, because one or more of MF celebrity board members (which include Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Elliott Gould and Ed Asner) will usually be absent from national board meetings.

7. MF will also presumably vote to appoint newly reelected board member Anne-Marie Johnson as 1st VP (the VP office from Hollywood) and thus as Divisional chair, to the extent that she doesn’t automatically continue in these offices (note that the updated SAG website still lists her as 1st VP and divisional rules say that the 1st VP is also the chair). This is possible because Johnson ran for two seats in this election—president, but also, as a backup, national board member. She won the latter.

8. As a result, MF will have skilled leadership as voting members in the Hollywood board room, namely, all four of its core leaders: Johnson, Rosenberg, Jolliffe and, continuing on the national and Hollywood boards, Kent McCord.

9. In contrast, Unite for Strength will have none of its leaders as voting members in the Hollywood boardroom: Ned Vaughn and Assaf Cohen didn’t win seats on the Hollywood or national boards, and Ken Howard and Amy Aquino, as national officers, are non-voting, ex officio members of the Hollywood board, as well as the NY and RBD (Regional Branch Division) boards. One wonders whether Howard and/or Aquino will be able to find time to attend every Hollywood board meeting. In any case, their formal roles would be very circumscribed; under the Constitution and By-Laws, they’re not even allowed to make motions or “initiate any other parliamentary procedures.”

10. Note also that the Hollywood board gets to appoint the Hollywood members of the TV/theatrical contract negotiating committee, if there is one, and that Hollywood has a majority on that committee. That suggests that negotiation will once again have to be handled by a task force appointed by the whole board, not by a committee appointed on a Division by Division basis. (It’s unclear to me whether the task force appointed earlier this year is still in existence.) Unless, that is, SAG and AFTRA are able to reestablish joint bargaining under the Phase 1 agreement.

11. Remember too that it was the Hollywood board that passed a resolution expressing the goal that SAG “acquire actors of AFTRA,” i.e. in some mystical fashion divesting AFTRA of its actors and absorbing all of them in SAG. Anne-Marie Johnson ran for and won a seat on the AFTRA board—despite saying it was distasteful to run—giving her an internal platform for this goal as well. We can expect MF to seek to terminate the anti-disparagement agreement so that the Hollywood board will be free to express its anti-AFTRA views without financial repercussion to SAG.

Bottom line: SAG’s byzantine governance structure and geographical divisiveness will once again facilitate disunity. Among other things, the question becomes, will SAG and AFTRA be able to reestablish Phase 1 joint bargaining? The divided governance certainly makes it harder.

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September 11, 2009

SAG P & H Plans

Fellow SAG Members,

You’ve just received the latest edition of TAKE 2, the newsletter of SAG’s Pension and Health Plans, and like me, you were probably troubled by what you read:

“According to federal guidelines established by the Pension Protection Act of 2006, the [Pension] Plan is in the orange zone and considered to be seriously endangered.”

“So far this year, contributions generated from employment-based earnings are down 10%. This represents the largest drop in plan history and does not account for the full impact of the decrease in SAG-covered television pilots, which has yet to be realized.”

HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUMS GOING UP
You also read that starting January 1st, our Health Insurance premiums are going up: 66% higher for Plan One, 50% higher for Plan Two, and 92% higher for Plan Two “age & service” coverage. And for the first time in the Plan’s history, all Senior Performers will now have to pay monthly premiums.

PENSION ACCRUAL RATE COMING DOWN
The funding decline of our Pension Plan means that corrective action must be taken, or “the Pension Plan could enter the red zone, (the most critical status under the PPA) and risk a funding deficiency under federal law, which would require even stronger action to correct.” As a result, effective Jan. 1, 2010, the pension accrual rate will be lowered from 3.5% to 2.0%, a drop of 42%.

This is very serious news, but it’s equally important to point out that these reductions do not apply to any pension you are currently receiving, or any benefits you have already accrued. By taking action now, the Plans will preserve their ability to pay those promised benefits.

However, as the Plan Trustees noted in their newsletter, the outlook for future benefits is less secure.

Investment losses hurt benefit plans across the country last year, including SAG’s – even though the Guild’s plans fared better than most in that regard. But earnings-based contributions have suffered their worst drop ever, and this does not reflect the future effects of SAG covering only 10% of the 2009 TV pilots. The cost of the decision last year to fight with AFTRA rather than partner with them on our biggest contract negotiation has already been deeply felt, but it hasn’t been fully realized yet.

YOUR VOTE WILL DECIDE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
I support my family as an actor and I couldn’t do it without solid health insurance and the expectation of a secure pension when I retire. Many of you are in the same boat… but even if you’re not, we all understand just how crucial those benefits are.

Will we go back to fighting with AFTRA and further endanger our benefit plans? Or will we unite with AFTRA to increase our bargaining power and strengthen the security of our health and pension benefits? This election will determine our course.

It’s clearer than ever that we cannot go back to the go-it-alone approach. That’s why I’m asking you to vote for Ken Howard, Amy Aquino and me, along with all the other UFS board candidates. And please spread this message to every SAG member you know. It has never been more important to make sure that all your friends and colleagues vote.

Respectfully,

Ned Vaughn

For more information about our candidates and to see all the UFS videos, please visit http://www.UniteforStrength.com

**UNITE FOR STRENGTH VOTING GUIDE**

President – KEN HOWARD
Secretary-Treasurer – AMY AQUINO

Board of Directors – Please vote for ALL 33 board candidates below. DO NOT vote for more than 33 board candidates or your ballot will not be counted.

1 – Michelle Allsopp
6 – Patrick Fabian
9 – Jason George
10 – Dawnn Lewis
11 – Woody Schultz
12 – Michael O’Keefe
14 – Clark Gregg
19 – David Lawrence
20 – Amir Talai
21 – Doug Savant
22 – Dule Hill
23 – Clyde Kusatsu
25 – Tim DeKay
28 – Assaf Cohen
34 – Scotty Caldwell
35 – D.W. Moffett
39 – Mandy Steckelberg
40 – Richard Speight, Jr.
43 – Jenny O’Hara
52 – Gabrielle Carteris
55 – Hill Harper
57 – Bill Smitrovich
58 – Bob Bergen
59 – Ned Vaughn
60 – Nancy Travis
62 – Gregory Itzin
64 – Ellen Crawford
67 – Stacey Travis
73 – Christian Clemenson
74 – Conrad Palmisano
75 – Richard Fancy
81 – Marcia Wallace
82 – John Carroll Lynch

September 1, 2009

United for Strength Supporters

Filed under: Entertainment — showbizreporting @ 5:17 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

July 29, 2009

Unite for Strength Members

Last year’s SAG election was important, but the upcoming SAG election means everything to your future as a professional performer. Not only will seats on the Hollywood and National Boards be at stake, but members will also elect SAG’s next President and Secretary-Treasurer. Most important, this election will decide a fundamental question for the future: will SAG go it alone – costing us more jurisdiction and further weakening us at the bargaining table – or will we unite for strength?

Fighting with other unions has gotten SAG nowhere and cost Guild members dearly. Ken Howard, Amy Aquino, and all the UFS board candidates understand that professional performers must have the smartest, strongest union representation possible – and the only way to get it is by working in cooperation with our labor partners. That’s what Unite for Strength is all about.

This national election will be hotly contested and we must get our message to the Guild’s 120,000 members. We can’t do that without your financial support. We need your donations to win.

Come join UFS for a night of celebration, food, drink, education, and good old-fashioned fundraising THIS Thursday, July 30th at 7:30pm.

It’s a great opportunity to meet those who have been working so hard for you since our first election victory, as well as the new candidates on our 2009 slate. We’ll be laughing, singing, dancing, and talking about the issues – and raising money to ensure that a powerful, united front representing all professional performers is the future for the Screen Actors Guild.

Please call a few friends and RSVP by sending an email to ufsparty@gmail.com right away!
(Location will be provided upon receipt of RSVP)
And if you can’t make it, please make a donation through our website:
http://www.UniteforStrength.com

UFS National Board Members –
Adam Arkin, Amy Brenneman, Ken Howard, Pamela Reed, Kate Walsh

UFS 2009 Candidates –
President: Ken Howard
Secretary-Treasurer: Amy Aquino

National/Hollywood Board –
Michelle Allsopp, Bob Bergen, Scotty Caldwell, Gabrielle Carteris, Christian Clemenson, Assaf Cohen, Ellen Crawford, Tim DeKay, Patrick Fabian, Richard Fancy, Jason George, Clark Gregg, Hill Harper, Dule Hill, Gregory Itzin, Clyde Kusatsu, David Lawrence, Dawnn Lewis, John Carroll Lynch, D.W. Moffett, Jenny O’Hara, Michael O’Keefe, Conrad Palmisano, Doug Savant, Woody Schultz, Bill Smitrovich, Richard Speight, Mandy Steckelberg, Amir Talai, Nancy Travis, Stacey Travis, Ned Vaughn, Marcia Wallace

July 21, 2009

SAG’s slate of candidates still secret

SAG’s slate of candidates still secret

Membership First coalition to announce Sunday

SAG 

 

 

 

Despite a fast-approaching Thursday filing deadline, the two factions within the Screen Actors Guild have continued to keep their slate of candidates for the guild’s September elections under wraps.

The Membership First coalition, which is aiming to regain control of SAG’s national board, has opted to announce its slate Sunday at a fund-raiser at the Beverly Hills home of board members Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor. SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg and secretary-treasurer Connie Stevens are hosting the event along with eight co-hosts: Barbara Eden, Dick Van Patten and national board members Scott Bakula, Anne De Salvo, Joely Fisher, Lainie Kazan, Nancy Sinatra and JoBeth Williams.

Since Rosenberg said conditionally six weeks ago that he’d seek a third two-year term, no one else has stepped forward to run for president. First VP Anne-Marie Johnson has admitted her name is under consideration as a Membership First candidate but has also stressed that no final decision has been made.

Membership First plans to run a full slate of candidates in Hollywood — where moderates from Unite for Strenght wrested control of the national board last fall — along with slates in New York and Chicago. About a third of the 71 seats are up in the election, with results due to be announced Sept. 24.

The Unite for Strength faction, which has a slim majority on the national board in a coalition with board members from SAG’s branches, hasn’t yet revealed any of its candidates. Rumors on possible presidential candidates have included national board members Adam Arkin and Morgan Fairchild, alernate national board member Ned Vaughn, Jason Alexander and former secretary-treasurer James Cromwell.

The overwhelming 78% ratification of SAGs feature-primetime contract — despite fervent opposition by Rosenberg and Membership First — has convinced many that the moderates will prevail in the election. But voting by SAG members has remained unpredictable over the past decade.

June 10, 2009

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

Digital Media Law

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

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

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

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

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

Below are press releases from AFTRA and the AMPTP.

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AFTRA Press Release

AFTRA President Roberta Reardon Applauds SAG Contract Ratification

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

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

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AMPTP Press Release

Statement by the AMPTP

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

June 6, 2009

Deadline for voting

Filed under: Entertainment — showbizreporting @ 6:15 pm
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Ned Vaughn, Unite for Strength June 4, 2009, 09:44 PM ET THR: What has been the hardest thing for you personally in getting through the last year? Ned Vaughn: Dealing with repeated accusations that I and the others who are now in the majority in the leadership of the guild are attempting to somehow weaken the union. Or that we don’t have the best interests of actors at heart. Because that’s obviously ridiculous. We all make our livings as actors. But without a doubt the hardest part has been time away from my family. I’ve been active in this at a very high level, and it’s required lots of my time. When I saw that Phase I relationship between SAG and AFTRA split apart in this last negotiation, I felt like we had reached a moment when this was actually going to start costing me money. It was going to start hindering the ability for middle class actors to make the best living possible. So I felt compelled to get in and help really try to make a change. THR: How do you feel then about the email that was just sent out from SAG’s leadership? One of the objections that MembershipFirst had was the accusation that they were somehow trying to destroy the union? Is there some hypocrisy there? Vaughn: I think there was one very objectionable sentence in that email, which said some members were trying to bring the union down. That was excessive language and it shouldn’t have been part of that email. THR: Did you help write the e-mail? Vaughn: No, I did not write that email. I believe that it was staff-generated, and probably there were many hands in it. All of the messages in this campaign, of which there have been many and will be more, absolutely have member hands on them, too. Staff will provide a structural draft, and then there’s a big group of members representing the majority point of view that feed into that and create what goes out. I do think that that language was excessive. But I also think that it was born out of frustrations on two fronts: that there have been repeated misrepresentations of some of the facts concerning this deal from the opposition side. And also, that the guild has taken on really significant damage in the area where so many of us make our livings, notably our television jurisdiction. Ninety% of the pilots going to AFTRA this year is a real sign of that. And so I think while that language was inappropriate, it was probably trying to express that there are concerns that the viability of the guild is at stake if we don’t stop the damage that has accrued during this time without a contract. THR: I guess the distinction would be attributing motivation to the other side. Because doing it inadvertently through policy decisions is different than actually wanting to bring the guild down. Vaughn: Exactly right. There’s a history here. As you know, Alan Rosenberg himself has said some very harsh things about those in the majority through guild publications. He’s accused us directly of trying to weaken the union. And assessing the motives of our political opponents within the guild–of any member within the guild–is really not a place we should be going. So that was a regrettable part of that email. THR: Have you lost friends or colleagues over this? Vaughn: I have to say no. I certainly have friends and colleagues who disagree. My friends and colleagues who I disagree with on these issues understand that any actions that I’ve taken have been in the interest of helping actors. They know that that’s where I’m coming from. And they disagree and sometimes we’ll even get into heated arguments, but I haven’t had any friendships irrevocably damaged. THR: How has your original agenda when you first helped form the Unite for Strength party most changed? Vaughn: The debut of Unite For Strength was July 24 last year. Our defining goal is absolutely still to unite all professional performers on one side of the bargaining table. We are all about maximizing the bargaining power of professional performers. THR: Do you feel like this contract debate, and the AFTRA contract debate, have impacted your focus or distracted you at all? Vaughn: There is no doubt that we have had to spend far more time than I had hoped that we would dealing with this contract. And certainly it was never an agenda of Unite for Strength, for example, to support the replacement of (former SAG executive director) Doug Allen. That’s not something that we campaigned on, it’s not something that we set out to do. But as the contract negotiations remained stalled, and it became more and more apparent that there wasn’t a workable strategy to resolve them, it’s taken a lot of our focus. One of the things that I am most pleased about with this contract that the members are going to be voting on, is the fact that we were able to realign our expiration date so that we can renegotiate in 2011 jointly with AFTRA and alongside the other entertainment unions. And that comes back to our core mission. THR: Part of the rationale for accepting the current deal is that in 2011 the various guilds can combine their leverage. There’s not a lot of precedent for that kind of teamwork, though, especially with the DGA. Are you worried that you’re going to fight the same lone fight then? Vaughn: Sure, it’s a possibility, but I would say two things. First of all, the leadership that has been in charge of the Screen Actors Guild has not fostered greater unity among the unions. It changes the game if the leadership of SAG has that as one of its top priorities. The second point is this: Let’s assume that we could not get full cooperation among all of the unions. Even in that context, so long as AFTRA and SAG regain the kind of tight bond that they had for the 25 years preceding this negotiation, we are in a vastly better position to deal with taking care of actors’ needs by presenting a united front for actors. That didn’t happen this last time, and that weakened our leverage. THR: Do you honestly believe that an organization of 120,000 or so members, that has a sister union with tens of thousands of overlapping members, will ever come to any real consensus? And if not, does the future have two unions in it, two SAGs? Vaughn: Oh, boy. Listen, you cannot get any group of 120,000 people to completely agree on anything. But I absolutely believe that there is a massive majority of people who do the work that this guild covers who very deeply want and need for there to be only one union. If we have learned nothing else from the last year, it is that a two-union solution does not work. Look, I and others like me who are journeymen are going to start having a much harder time in years to come qualifying for our health insurance and our pension credits if the unions remain separate and our benefits contributions are split. And talk of merger is in the air. People understand that even short of merger that SAG and AFTRA must cooperate. We cannot negotiate separately. THR: If the contract is voted down, what justification could you have for blocking a strike authorization vote at that point? Vaughn: I don’t think there’s any justification. I think that that’s where things have to go. And more to the point, I think that honestly the reality is that we’re probably looking at a strike. Now, whether or not a strike authorization could be obtained is another important question that we need to ask, because the required 75% is a very high number, and we’ve had a very contentious period both in the leadership and in the membership. But I agree that a strike authorization would be the next logical step, and I think, frankly, if it were obtained it would lead to a strike. THR: Is it disingenuous at all to use the full force of SAG, its official membership lists and leadership, to promote passage of the contract when 47% of the national board voted against it? Vaughn: Not at all. Every voter in this referendum got a full statement of the opposition’s point of view, they got a rebuttal to the majority’s point of view, and certainly, as we can see, the minority has had no problem getting their message seen and heard by many, many SAG members. There is a point at which you have constitutional prescriptions for how to deal with the majority opinion and the minority opinion, and those are being followed. THR: What was the last performance or acting job that you were hired and paid for? Vaughn: On camera, it was an episode of “Heroes.” And I also do voiceover work for a variety of people. THR: Have you acted in any original content for the Web? Vaughn: Never. Ned Vaughn, Unite for StrengthJune 4, 2009, 09:44 PM ET THR: What has been the hardest thing for you personally in getting through the last year? Ned Vaughn: Dealing with repeated accusations that I and the others who are now in the majority in the leadership of the guild are attempting to somehow weaken the union. Or that we don’t have the best interests of actors at heart. Because that’s obviously ridiculous. We all make our livings as actors. But without a doubt the hardest part has been time away from my family. I’ve been active in this at a very high level, and it’s required lots of my time. When I saw that Phase I relationship between SAG and AFTRA split apart in this last negotiation, I felt like we had reached a moment when this was actually going to start costing me money. It was going to start hindering the ability for middle class actors to make the best living possible. So I felt compelled to get in and help really try to make a change. THR: How do you feel then about the email that was just sent out from SAG’s leadership? One of the objections that MembershipFirst had was the accusation that they were somehow trying to destroy the union? Is there some hypocrisy there? Vaughn: I think there was one very objectionable sentence in that email, which said some members were trying to bring the union down. That was excessive language and it shouldn’t have been part of that email. THR: Did you help write the e-mail? Vaughn: No, I did not write that email. I believe that it was staff-generated, and probably there were many hands in it. All of the messages in this campaign, of which there have been many and will be more, absolutely have member hands on them, too. Staff will provide a structural draft, and then there’s a big group of members representing the majority point of view that feed into that and create what goes out. I do think that that language was excessive. But I also think that it was born out of frustrations on two fronts: that there have been repeated misrepresentations of some of the facts concerning this deal from the opposition side. And also, that the guild has taken on really significant damage in the area where so many of us make our livings, notably our television jurisdiction. Ninety% of the pilots going to AFTRA this year is a real sign of that. And so I think while that language was inappropriate, it was probably trying to express that there are concerns that the viability of the guild is at stake if we don’t stop the damage that has accrued during this time without a contract. THR: I guess the distinction would be attributing motivation to the other side. Because doing it inadvertently through policy decisions is different than actually wanting to bring the guild down. Vaughn: Exactly right. There’s a history here. As you know, Alan Rosenberg himself has said some very harsh things about those in the majority through guild publications. He’s accused us directly of trying to weaken the union. And assessing the motives of our political opponents within the guild–of any member within the guild–is really not a place we should be going. So that was a regrettable part of that email. THR: Have you lost friends or colleagues over this? Vaughn: I have to say no. I certainly have friends and colleagues who disagree. My friends and colleagues who I disagree with on these issues understand that any actions that I’ve taken have been in the interest of helping actors. They know that that’s where I’m coming from. And they disagree and sometimes we’ll even get into heated arguments, but I haven’t had any friendships irrevocably damaged. THR: How has your original agenda when you first helped form the Unite for Strength party most changed? Vaughn: The debut of Unite For Strength was July 24 last year. Our defining goal is absolutely still to unite all professional performers on one side of the bargaining table. We are all about maximizing the bargaining power of professional performers. THR: Do you feel like this contract debate, and the AFTRA contract debate, have impacted your focus or distracted you at all? Vaughn: There is no doubt that we have had to spend far more time than I had hoped that we would dealing with this contract. And certainly it was never an agenda of Unite for Strength, for example, to support the replacement of (former SAG executive director) Doug Allen. That’s not something that we campaigned on, it’s not something that we set out to do. But as the contract negotiations remained stalled, and it became more and more apparent that there wasn’t a workable strategy to resolve them, it’s taken a lot of our focus. One of the things that I am most pleased about with this contract that the members are going to be voting on, is the fact that we were able to realign our expiration date so that we can renegotiate in 2011 jointly with AFTRA and alongside the other entertainment unions. And that comes back to our core mission. THR: Part of the rationale for accepting the current deal is that in 2011 the various guilds can combine their leverage. There’s not a lot of precedent for that kind of teamwork, though, especially with the DGA. Are you worried that you’re going to fight the same lone fight then? Vaughn: Sure, it’s a possibility, but I would say two things. First of all, the leadership that has been in charge of the Screen Actors Guild has not fostered greater unity among the unions. It changes the game if the leadership of SAG has that as one of its top priorities. The second point is this: Let’s assume that we could not get full cooperation among all of the unions. Even in that context, so long as AFTRA and SAG regain the kind of tight bond that they had for the 25 years preceding this negotiation, we are in a vastly better position to deal with taking care of actors’ needs by presenting a united front for actors. That didn’t happen this last time, and that weakened our leverage. THR: Do you honestly believe that an organization of 120,000 or so members, that has a sister union with tens of thousands of overlapping members, will ever come to any real consensus? And if not, does the future have two unions in it, two SAGs? Vaughn: Oh, boy. Listen, you cannot get any group of 120,000 people to completely agree on anything. But I absolutely believe that there is a massive majority of people who do the work that this guild covers who very deeply want and need for there to be only one union. If we have learned nothing else from the last year, it is that a two-union solution does not work. Look, I and others like me who are journeymen are going to start having a much harder time in years to come qualifying for our health insurance and our pension credits if the unions remain separate and our benefits contributions are split. And talk of merger is in the air. People understand that even short of merger that SAG and AFTRA must cooperate. We cannot negotiate separately. THR: If the contract is voted down, what justification could you have for blocking a strike authorization vote at that point? Vaughn: I don’t think there’s any justification. I think that that’s where things have to go. And more to the point, I think that honestly the reality is that we’re probably looking at a strike. Now, whether or not a strike authorization could be obtained is another important question that we need to ask, because the required 75% is a very high number, and we’ve had a very contentious period both in the leadership and in the membership. But I agree that a strike authorization would be the next logical step, and I think, frankly, if it were obtained it would lead to a strike. THR: Is it disingenuous at all to use the full force of SAG, its official membership lists and leadership, to promote passage of the contract when 47% of the national board voted against it? Vaughn: Not at all. Every voter in this referendum got a full statement of the opposition’s point of view, they got a rebuttal to the majority’s point of view, and certainly, as we can see, the minority has had no problem getting their message seen and heard by many, many SAG members. There is a point at which you have constitutional prescriptions for how to deal with the majority opinion and the minority opinion, and those are being followed. THR: What was the last performance or acting job that you were hired and paid for? Vaughn: On camera, it was an episode of “Heroes.” And I also do voiceover work for a variety of people. THR: Have you acted in any original content for the Web? Vaughn: Never.

June 3, 2009

SAG – AFRTRA RATIFY AGREEMENT

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAG’s Strange Voyage

 

SAG’s Strange Voyage  (May 19, 2009)

 

Where did the Screen Actors Guild go? After months of news—a near daily barrage covered diligently by various journalists and citizen-journalists, including this author—the guild fell off the radar screen. It was as though 5757 Wilshire, SAG’s national headquarters, somehow disappeared into the black hole that features so prominently in (spoiler alert) the latest “Star Trek” movie.

The quiet was deceptive however. Last week, SAG’s Hollywood board, controlled by the hardline Membership First faction, passed a resolution establishing a task force “to explore the acquisition of actors of AFTRA.” That appears to violate an agreement between the two unions that prohibits disparagement and raiding. The AFL-CIO is currently investigating, and monetary fines are a possibility. The irony is that the guild, controlled (albeit narrowly) by a moderate majority (composed of the Hollywood-based Unite for Strength faction coupled with Hollywood independents and New York and regional members), could find itself punished because of the actions of the autonomous Hollywood Board, controlled by the hardliners. Unfortunately, SAG’s governance structure ensures that there will always be too many starship captains on the bridge at once.

Meanwhile, within SAG itself another battle is looming, and here again the phasers will not be set on stun. Tensions between the hardliners and the moderates rival those between the Federation and the Romulans, and are about to break out again into open war—this time, as the guild membership prepares to vote on the TV/theatrical contract, which was recently approved by the SAG negotiating task force and the guild’s national board. Ballots are being sent to the membership at large today, May 19.

The stakes are high. Ratification will end an almost eleven month stalemate and restart studio theatrical production, which has been at a virtual standstill since the previous contract expired on June 30 last year. Rejection will plunge the union and the AMPTP—the alliance that represents studios and producers—back into stalemate, once again adrift in uncharted nebulas. Nonetheless, the hardliners have pledged to defeat the deal. Although they seem unlikely to succeed—a recent picnic/rally drew at most 70 attendees—they will drive the percentage of ratification down.

For almost two years, the hardliners have acted as though they come from another galaxy, or at least from Planet Claire, where (as the B-52’s explained) “no one has a head.” They started by trying to unilaterally reduce AFTRA’s power on the committee that for decades has jointly bargained the TV/theatrical contract. AFTRA ultimately responded by abandoning the joint arrangement, called Phase 1, and negotiating its own deal with the studios. The hardliners, who at the time controlled the guild, should have foreseen this result, and its effect, which was to reduce not AFTRA’s power but SAG’s.

Compounding this misstep, SAG delayed negotiating with the AMPTP until the contract was almost at the point of expiration. The studios’ response was unsurprising: they accelerated production, stockpiled films, then presented SAG with a take it or leave it offer whose terms mirrored that of the AFTRA deal and, in a key area, mirrored the terms of the Directors Guild and Writers Guild deals as well.

That key area, as even those on the dark side of the moon probably know, is new media. The deal terms in this area, from a union perspective, have gaps in jurisdiction and residuals structure. In this, the SAG hardliners make a significant point. But those gaps flow largely from the revenue-draining effect that new media is having on Hollywood. Technology is driving the perceived value of content towards zero, a matter I discuss in a just-published article in the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law. That’s a pressure that both management and labor struggle to deal with.

Several additional factors helped make the search for better terms than three other unions a doomed mission to a dead planet. These were (1) the general uncertainty surrounding new media business models, (2) the economic fatigue suffered by actors and the rest of the industry in the wake of the 100 day writers strike, and (3) SAG’s lack of bargaining leverage, the latter a circumstance largely engineered by the hardliners themselves. (The recession, whose severity was at first unclear, only made things worse.) It’s as though the hardliners thought they could run at warp speed on cubic zirconia rather than dilithium crystals. Failure was not only an option, it was the predictable outcome.

What’s more, the stalemate itself led to further injury, of four varieties. First, it meant that SAG actors working in TV (a field in which production had continued) did so under the terms of the expired contract, meaning that they missed out on the 3.5% raise that AFTRA received on June 30 of last year by dint of its new deal. That’s amounted in aggregate to tens of millions of dollars foregone.

Second, it means that SAG will be behind AFTRA by 3.5% for at least the remainder of the new contract, because each union will continue to receive annual increases but SAG won’t get an extra bump to bring it to parity. Third, if SAG wants to catch up in the next round of negotiations, in 2011, it will need to trade off some other deal point that it might otherwise have gotten.

Fourth, the stalemate put into play the date that the new contract would expire, which is significant because it determines whether SAG’s deal will expire concurrently with those of the other guilds, allowing it to make common cause with them and increase the leverage of all four above-the-line unions (SAG, AFTRA, DGA and WGA) in the 2011 negotiations. SAG won that point, but at a cost of another two months of delay, from February (when the studios made an offer that would not expire concurrently) until April (when they made the offer that is now on the table). SAG was also forced to compromise pending claims for over $60 million dollars in force majeure payments—claims for actors’ wages lost due to the writers strike—but this may be less of a hit to the guild than it appears, since the contract language on the subject is at best ambiguous.

So where are we now? The ratification ballots are due back June 9, so we’ll know in less than a month whether the long stalemate is finally over. I anticipate ratification will be achieved, but with a percentage in the 60%-75% range, well below the over-90% that’s usually achieved when Hollywood union leadership recommends a contract. Meanwhile, the ballots for the SAG-AFTRA commercials contract with the advertising industry are out to the members, and are due back in two days, on May 21. That one will pass easily, as there’s no organized opposition.

Also of note: several months ago, SAG president Alan Rosenberg and three other hardliners (1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord) sued their own union, seeking to enjoin negotiations and reverse personnel and procedural changes that they correctly anticipated would pave the way for a deal on terms the hardliners are pledged to oppose. Although their requests were denied by both the trial and appeals courts, the lawsuit nonetheless continues in both of those forums (Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC406900 and Second Appellate District 2d Civil No. B214056).

Why don’t the plaintiffs drop the debilitating two-track lawsuit, which flouts the concept of unity trumpeted by the hardliners when they were in power? Their motivation for proceeding in the face of near-certain defeat seems political at this point: dropping the suit would damage the hardliners’ campaign in this fall’s SAG elections, where the SAG presidency, and control of the board, are at stake. (Indeed, the political elbows are so sharp that several of the hardliners are also running in the now-in-progress AFTRA elections, seeking to undermine that union’s leverage from within.) Dismissing the suit would also doom the likely attempt the hardliners will make in the SAG boardroom to obtain reimbursement of their burgeoning legal fees. Meanwhile the guild is, of course, incurring significant fees of its own to defend itself and the forty-odd Board members also named as defendants.

Even assuming the TV/theatrical agreement is ratified, the guild has a long way to go before it’s back in our solar system. SAG’s been without a franchise agreement—the contract between the union and the talent agents—since 2002, and four other agreements are expired as well. The union is riven not only by factionalism but by economic and geographic divisions as well. New media issues will recur in 2011, which is just around the corner, and every three years thereafter, since technology continues to evolve faster than Hollywood can respond, let alone than union agreements can be renegotiated. The guild’s new leadership has made impressive progress in its few short months in office, but there are many light years yet to travel.

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