Agents kill SAG waiver proposal

ATA goes back to the bargaining table

Facing nearly certain defeat, the Assn. of Talent Agents Tuesday withdrew its controversial proposal to waive the financial interest rules in its charter with SAG.

The ATA’s proposal, which the two groups have worked on for more than a year, would have allowed agents to invest in media and production companies and vice versa. Agents had sought the deal so that they might better compete with the unregulated personal managers who are often criticized for unfairly performing the functions of agents.

Officially, the ATA remains upbeat that a new agreement with SAG will be reached, and the exec committee voted unanimously to reopen the talks on the basic contract on April 10.

But the word around town late Tuesday was that Hollywood’s top agents have sustained a bitter loss.

“This is a terrible setback,” said the chief of one agency. “We will try to re-open negotiations, but I don’t see anything positive coming from this.”

The ATA thought it reached a landmark agreement on Feb. 16, when it agreed to all of SAG’s 25 outstanding proposals. But SAG’s leaders said there was no deal until its exec committee has signed off — the national board was to take up the issue April 3 — and suggested that even then the agreement would have to be approved by a referendum of the rank and file.

One senior agent expressed frustration that, after a year of painstaking bargaining, SAG “reneged on a done deal.” He referred to the guild as “a dysfunctional union.”

SAG prexy William Daniels said that “if the ATA’s general desire is to level the playing field with managers, we’ll continue working with them on that matter — This now opens the door to a number of options.”

But few of the options seem attractive to the agents. They can sue, but they regard this as expensive and time-consuming litigation. They can return to the bargaining table, with little hope of success. Or they can opt for a series of artifices to establish an even playing field with managers: Some of the bigger ones may establish affiliate entities that function as management companies.

“We can’t sustain a status quo,” said the chief of one major agency, referring to the growing competition with managers.

The biggest irony over the deal’s collapse, said the ATA’s exec director Karen Stuart, “is that we want to create better opportunities for SAG’s members — as more agencies leave the business, the more actors lose jobs.”

Stuart wouldn’t say whether the ATA will include a similar proposal when it goes back to the table with SAG.

“I can’t comment on the new proposal, but we absolutely hope that we’ll have a deal by the end of the negotiations,” Stuart said.

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