HOLLYWOOD — Newly elected SAG secretary-treasurer James Cromwell returned fire late Friday at allies of the former SAG treasurer Kent McCord, who are urging SAG and AFTRA members to vote against ratifying the tentative commercials deal reached last month.
Cromwell, in his first interview with Daily Variety since taking office, suggested the SAG membership would do well to accept a multitude of modest gains in an uncertain economic climate, rather than risking a harried, piecemeal renegotiation done with the unions’ back against a wall.
“Under the circumstances, without a strike authorization — which we did not have — this is the very, very best deal that we could have gotten,” Cromwell said of the pact, adding “We didn’t get everything that we wanted. We didn’t get a firm monitoring (agreement). But in terms of keeping people working in this economy, this is a gain. It’s ‘a plus,’ and it was negotiated honorably.”
McCord’s Membership First has been sending emails to supporters and waging a campaign exhorting members to reject the deal as insufficient.
McCord urges no vote
“Your no vote will send this ill-conceived agreement back to the negotiating table,” says part of a fiery Membership First missive.
SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert and AFTRA prexy John Connolly have both strongly backed the tentative deal, reached Sept. 24 after only two days of negotiations, and have cited the hike in pension and health contributions, increases in all wage categories and the absence of any rollbacks amid a tough economic climate.
The McCord faction’s opposition is based on three key areas: dissatisfaction with the 5% increase in cable fees, (compared with the 140% gain achieved three years ago); unhappiness with the pace of development of a television ad monitoring system to ensure payments are made to actors; and the dissenting board members’ inability to get a “minority report” issued by the board to the membership about why they think the pact is a meager deal.
Cromwell especially defended the newborn package’s gains in cable ads.
Don’t mess with it
“The great gains in cable (in 2000) were accomplished on the backs of people who did other kinds of commercial work, whether it was voice-overs or what-have-you,” Cromwell said. “We’d diminished our package for other people in order to make dramatic gains in cable — which is not sustainable. That level of increase cannot be sustained without, of course, screwing your package.”
Membership First, however, kvetched that the proffered cable hike translates into a raise from $2,460 to $2,581 for a quarterly cable buyout. “Actors who appear on cable commercials will continue to be victimized by overexposure (which prevents you from getting further work) — and for this, you will be compensated about a hundred bucks — and there will be no raise for another three years,” the opponents said.
The org also complained that there is no guarantee that an ad monitoring system will be instituted. The 2000 contract set aside $1 million annually to develop a monitoring system amid pervasive complaints that thesps are shortchanged residuals; SAG and the ad industry pledged just last month to create an online searchable database that’s reviewable by performers. But that system won’t be in place until next spring at the earliest.
Into the fire
Cromwell said such dickering now is hugely dangerous to the membership, because brinksmanship with advertisers could devolve into chaos and ultimately net losses for actors.
“If you send this back,” Cromwell warned the SAG membership, “they will not negotiate now. They will hold our counteroffer until five days before they have to. And then they will open up the entire package. They’ll start horsetrading little bits off little bits. And then, with two days left, you’ll have to go to the membership to ask them for a strike authorization, and you are in deep (expletive).”
Instead, Cromwell pleaded for conciliation and closed ranks, not recriminations and division.
“For everybody now, the thing to do is to heal, heal our two unions, and to be able to put people to work in this economy without a stoppage. To sit there and pick the contract apart because you think it doesn’t live up to some abstraction that you have in your head is counterproductive, and is a detriment to the membership, and would lead to nothing but another horrendous strike which neither the industry nor our union can afford.”
In 2000, 96% of the SAG membership voting ratified a deal that was hammered out after a bruising six-month strike. Of the 124,724 members receiving ballots, 34.3% voted with 41,064 approving, 1,623 voting no and 53 ballots ruled as invalid.
Ratification ballots were sent last week to the unions’ 128,000 members with an Oct. 27 deadline for return. The current three-year contract expires 48 hours later.