SAG waiting to resume feature-primetime talks
With SAG anxiously waiting in the wings, AFTRA and the majors are believed to be near a tentative deal on the union’s primetime contract.Amid a news blackout, neither side issued any official announcement as of Monday evening, but it was understood that AFTRA and the AMPTP had entered the final stages of reaching a three-year agreement. Monday marked the 16th day of negotiations between the two orgs. AFTRA leaders, who have touted their pragmatic approach, had been widely expected to make a deal before the Screen Actors Guild did. SAG is scheduled to resume its talks with the AMPTP on Wednesday. In agreeing to negotiate over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, both AFTRA and the AMPTP had started sending strong signals that they were closing in on a deal. Monday’s session marked the eighth consecutive day of bargaining over the contract, which covers a handful of primetime shows including “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Reaper,” “Rules of Engagement” and “‘Til Death.” In a message to members, AFTRA president Roberta Reardon indicated Sunday that the two sides were making progress. She singled out the issue of actor consent for online clip use as the toughest hurdle but noted both sides were seeking a “creative solution.” The SAG and AFTRA deals expire June 30 — and the lack of resolution has unnerved Hollywood in the wake of the 100-day writers strike, with major studios refusing to greenlight features until the SAG deal is done. SAG, which covers all features and most of primetime, negotiated for 18 days before talks recessed May 6 despite guild objections it was near a deal. The AMPTP insisted it was obliged to launch twice-delayed talks with AFTRA the next day. SAG leaders have insisted they don’t want to strike and have not asked members for strike authorization. Such a move would require 75% support among those casting ballots. SAG president Alan Rosenberg has asserted the guild was “within hours” of making a deal May 6, even though SAG leaders have said subsequently that major gaps remained on clip consent, DVD, force majeure, product integration and budget thresholds on made-for-Internet projects. A key question once SAG starts bargaining: Will the terms negotiated by AFTRA be acceptable to SAG? And that’s uncertain for two reasons — SAG’s insisted repeatedly that the new-media terms in the DGA and WGA deals are inadequate; and SAG’s recent relationship with AFTRA has been near toxic. AFTRA split from joint negotiations with SAG in late March following a bitter jurisdictional dispute, and the union then spurned SAG’s two-pronged request May 6 to either step aside for a third time or go back to joint bargaining. It’s the first time in three decades the two sides have negotiated separately on the primetime contract. As with the negotiations that led to the DGA and WGA deals, AFTRA has indicated that much of the focus in talks has been on new media. “In addition to seeking improvements in compensation, coverage and health and retirement benefits, we are also confronting a number of tough challenges involving new media,” Reardon said in her Sunday message to members. “Because many of the issues we face in this area are completely unprecedented — most notably, the knotty problem of clip consent — we are trying to think out of the box in order to reach pragmatic resolutions.” The majors have asserted they may be able to start a viable business in clips if the unions relent on the consent issue.