Guild prez Daniels to call for unionwide vote
After a year of negotiations, talent agents have been shoved back to square one in efforts to reach a landmark deal with the Screen Actors Guild to update its regulations.“The deal is a mess,” one union insider said. “I hope they can work it through, but both sides are in an awkward spot.” Deal may die as early as Tuesday, when the Assn. of Talent Agents holds a board meeting to respond to last week’s surprise announcement by SAG president William Daniels that he plans to put the matter to a vote by the entire 97,000-member org. ATA chief Karen Stuart, who has insisted that the deal was completed Feb. 16, said she would not comment until after the meeting. In less than two weeks, the ground-breaking agreement between SAG and ATA has unraveled, thanks largely to Daniels. The union’s chief first insisted the deal, a two-year waiver of its charter, wasn’t final and then announced he would seek to submit the matter to a unionwide vote. “We’re a democratic organization and this should be decided by referendum,” Daniels declared. His maneuver will probably kill the deal since SAG’s membership is likely to reject a proposal to give agents the ability to shift ownership to financial partners such as production companies and ad agencies. Indeed, ATA may simply withdraw the proposal prior to a vote. Daniels’ actions came after several high-profile SAG members expressed reservations about the deal. Should the deal die, the implications will be far-reaching since ATA would probably be deterred from seeking revamps on agent rules from the Directors Guild and the Writers Guild. It’s not that the agents’ key argument — that their hands are tied by decades-old rules as personal managers swoop in and snag much of the new business — hasn’t sparked sympathy. Agents also complained that SAG had been lax in cracking down on members who used managers to perform agent duties, while SAG supporters of the deal pointed out that without deregulation, agents could vanish within 10 years. “What’s happened is the merits have not been discussed, just the snafus of the process,” one supporter said. Conflicting on conflict But observers said the new rules, despite protections for actors, may tilt too far toward agents on the conflict-of-interest issue. The two orgs began negotiations in early 1999 and the ATA believed it had completed a deal on Feb. 16 when it approved a package of 25 SAG proposals, including the right of agencies to own and be owned by production and media companies. But Daniels and SAG national executive director Ken Orsatti seized on one point — that SAG’s national board, in its Feb. 14 vote, had left two proposals open for negotiation with SAG’s national executive committee, which is making the final decision March 7. The ATA has insisted that it eliminated the need for further negotiations when it agreed to SAG’s language in the two unresolved proposals. Stuart filed off a warning: “ATA intends to abide by the commitments it has undertaken and expects SAG to do the same.” Getting tough Daniels, elected last fall after accusing predecessor Richard Masur of being soft in negotiations, remained unimpressed. “Our members want more information,” he said. For agencies, the move would blow away dreams of luring money from dot-coms and ad agencies while stopping agent defections. For Daniels, the maneuvering has been seen as a face-saving follow-through on his get-tough campaign promises. He plans to seek a motion by the executive board to ask the national board to hold a referendum; for that to occur, the national board would have to reverse its Feb. 14 approval. Credibility question One producer believes SAG’s credibility will suffer if that happens, affecting the union’s current commercial contract talks with ad agencies. “How can you believe what they negotiate after this?” he asked. Daniels received a 20-second standing ovation from about 1,000 people at a Sunday rally at the Hollywood Palladium in support of negotiators for SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. He did not mention the agent issue during his speech. “This rally shows the industry that SAG and AFTRA are dead serious and we will insist on fair negotiations,” he said. The unions, which began negotiating Feb. 14, will solicit strike authorization approval from members this week and return to the bargaining table March 14.