SAG puts off agents fight

Vote on franchise agreement pushed to at least Oct. 12

The Screen Actors Guild has put off its showdown with talent agents for at least a month.

Underscoring deep divisions within SAG leadership, the Guild has canceled Thursday’s emergency meeting that could have set a “drop-dead” date for agents to comply with SAG’s expired regulations.

The delay, resulting from a concerted campaign by allies of SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert, puts off until at least Oct. 12 the potentially painful SAG national board vote to force adherence by talent agents to SAG’s master franchise agreement. If SAG sets a “drop-dead” date, members would face discipline if they are signed with a talent agency that refuses to endorse the master franchise agreement — in effect, forcing actors to choose between SAG and their agents.

SAG’s agent regulations expired in mid-April when members voted down, by a 55%-45% margin, a proposed revamp of the rules over concern about eased agency ownership regs. Since then, SAG has been split by a debate between those who believe SAG needs to regain oversight on agents — advocated by the Leadership Coalition — and those who wish to avoid a potentially damaging confrontation, including Gilbert’s allies on the Restore Respect and United Screen Actors candidate slates.

As a result of the expiration of the franchise agreement, agents have been able to sign SAG members to General Service Agreements with less favorable terms to actors. At its last meeting in July, the board shied away from addressing the issue as Gilbert repeatedly delayed consideration of setting a “drop-dead” date and the meeting adjourned without a vote on the matter.

“Overseeing the people who represent us is a fundamental part of what our union is about,” declared board member David Jolliffe, a member of the Leadership Coalition slate. “I have a great deal of affection for agents because they are our partners but it’s crucial for us to enforce the will of the membership on this issue and protect them.”

SAG CEO Bob Pisano and Gilbert announced Tuesday that they had called off the emergency board confab after 56 of 107 board members requested that the meeting be cancelled, and SAG’s agent relations committee voted 7-6 earlier Tuesday to rescind its recommendation for the emergency meeting. Chair Michael Monks cast the tiebreaking vote.

The delay means the board will not decide on the inflammatory issue until after the current board election, which concludes Sept. 23. But Pisano stressed SAG is not dropping the ball on the issue.

“This in no way signals a change in our position regarding a franchise agreement with agents or in our resolve to implement SAG’s rule regarding franchised agents after due consideration by the National Board at its October plenary meeting,” he said.

The delay could allow Pisano to craft an approach that would enable SAG to present a more unified front on the volatile issue or possibly restart negotiations. The Assn. of Talent Agents has indicated no interest is resuming talks.

Gilbert’s backers — mostly from New York and the regional branches — contended that last month’s 8-1 vote by the agent relations committee to set the emergency meeting was taken with only one rep of the four from those groups. They also cited the current board’s “lame duck” status in arguing for a delay.

New York prexy Eileen Henry, a committee member who led the effort to cancel the meeting, defended her actions by saying, “I’m entitled to exercise my rights and seek a better solution.”

The only specific action taken by the SAG board so far came on April 20, the day after members voted the revamp down, when the board suspended the requirement that members be represented only by franchised agents. Jolliffe said that confab included instructions to Gilbert and Pisano to start an informational campaign and find new ways to hammer out a deal with agents.

“Instead, this crisis has been manufactured by letting the members hang for the past five months,” he added.

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