Few in Hollywood are familiar with California Labor Commissioner Arthur Lujan, but before the dust settles on the dispute between SAG and the talent agents, they will be.
Whether approved or nixed, the deal will be subject to state scrutiny, and how Lujan’s office responds will have a major impact. Lujan has remained studiously mum on the tentative SAG-ATA deal, continuing his hands-off posture on the issue.
A Lujan spokesman said the commission, which licenses talent agents, has received a copy of the SAG-ATA tentative agreement but would have no comment.
Lujan has avoided taking a position on the key issue of easing the agency ownership restrictions in SAG’s master franchise agreement, but he has made it clear that he has final say over whether the deal passes muster with state law. “The labor commissioner does have the authority to review and approve (or refuse) any agreements reached between SAG and ATA,” he wrote in a Jan. 8 letter to the ATA.
Lujan also said the Talent Agency Act will give him authority over individual transactions if the deal goes through. “Any agreement reached between SAG and ATA must provide for compliance with the section insofar as it is applicable to any financial interest transaction,” he wrote.
Although Lujan attended last fall’s state hearings by Senate president pro-tem John Burton, he did not testify, and general counsel David Gurley asserted only that he would welcome “guidance” from the legislature as to how to proceed, if SAG approves the ATA deal.
In response to requests from Burton, California’s Legislative Counsel issued two opinions that key parts of a SAG-ATA deal may face hitches in areas such as “division of fees” from an agency sale. But opponents and proponents of the deal remain split over whether the easing of restrictions would require that state law be changed.
SAG will send referendum ballots on the issue to its 98,000 members on April 3, with a 15-day deadline for return. Ballot arguments are being finalized this week.
SAG treasurer Kent McCord, whoheads the committee on the “con” side, has been frustrated in attempts to discover how much SAG staff is paying PR specialists Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane for their services in advocating the deal. “Members have a right to know how their dues are being used in promoting a fundamental change in SAG’s rules and one that we believe is not in the members’ best interests,” he added.
If approved, the new deal will go into effect July 1; if not approved, the outlook is uncertain, although SAG chief Robert Pisano warned recently that top agencies might disenfranchise and become managers.
Disenfranchising could invite increased state scrutiny, however, if managers do not use agents when procuring employment for actors. Lujan’s office ruled last year that managers could not option spec screenplays on behalf of a writer without being licensed as a talent agent.
Gurley wrote that shopping screenplays “establishes an attempt to procure employment,” and since the manager did not have an agent license, the management agreement for Corner of the Sky Entertainment was void. The ruling has received little notice since decisions of the labor commissioner are not published.