AMPTP send letter to local, national officials

Amping up the pressure on the Screen Actors Guild, the majors have gone to elected officials with a blast at SAG leaders for seeking a strike authorization.

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers sent a letter Friday to leading members of the California delegation including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein along with local, state and national elected officials in New York, Illinois and Michigan.

The missive, penned by AMPTP president Nick Counter, excoriated SAG leaders for refusing to accept the AMPTP’s final offer, which contains similar terms to those in Hollywood labor agreements concluded this year by the WGA, DGA, IATSE, casting directors and AFTRA.  

“Now, astonishingly, SAG is demanding that working actors attempt to wipe away the consequences of SAG’s failed negotiating strategy by authorizing a strike,” Counter said. “This strike vote is remarkable because it comes at a time when prominent economists are saying that the current recession may turn out to be the longest and most painful downturn since the Great Depression.”

SAG deputy national exec director Pamm Fair disputed the majors’ contention that SAG should accept a deal similar to those signed by the other unions.

“Screen Actors Guild represents actors who have different needs than writers, directors and crew members,” Fair said in a statement. “We are different, not better. Our unique needs require that we negotiate a fair contract specific to actors, background actors and stunt performers, and not simply accept what has been agreed to by our sister unions.”

Guild leaders have insisted that the needs of actors — particularly in new media — have not been adequately addressed in the AMPTP’s final offer, issued June 30 as SAG’s contract expired.

Counter noted in the letter that the other agreements cover 125,000 union members and provide both “substantial” economic gains in traditional media and first-ever rights in new media. 

“Taken together, these agreements offer a sensible framework that will allow the entire entertainment industry to experiment with new media while ensuring that talent benefits from new media gains,” he added. “These six agreements were crafted during extraordinarily difficult times. Our industry is adapting to a rapidly changing new media marketplace at the same time as our entire nation is dealing with one of the greatest economic crises ever.”

Counter said the AMPTP’s final offer contains more than $250 million in wage and benefit increases over its three year term — a figure disputed by SAG. The AMPTP has calculated that SAG’s refusal to accept the deal has cost members over $37 million.

SAG plans to send out the strike authorization vote to its due current members — estimated at 110,000 — on Jan. 2 with results announced Jan. 23. At least 75% of those voting must affirm the authorization for SAG’s national board to call a strike.

SAG leaders have insisted that the authorization vote won’t necessarily lead to a strike. Instead, they’ve asserted a “yes” vote is designed to force the AMPTP back to the bargaining table although the AMPTP’s declared repeatedly that it won’t revise the terms of its offer.

Counter concluded the letter by calling the strike vote “remarkable” since SAG members are being asked to put themselves out of work over issues that have already been resolved in the six other agreements.

“We are mindful of the fact that another industry-wide strike will harm not only those who work in our industry but also the thousands of businesses which support and depend upon the continued vitality of the motion picture and television industries,” he said. “We invite you to review the terms of our offer at AMPTP.org.”

A strike would likely be more disruptive to feature production than to primetime since studios have been planning to ramp up activity in coming months. Primetime series would be near the end of their seasonal production cycle at that point, and with producers of many pilots having opted to go with AFTRA deals, those pilots would not be affected.

 High-profile actors have largely avoided taking sides so far. Rosie Perez and Blair Underwood have announced they”ll back the authorization, while Jason Alexander, Danny DeVito, Mike Farrell and Rhea Perlman have come out against it.

 It appears there’s little chance of a back-channel deal emerging in coming weeks. A federal mediator brought negotiators together last month to try to relaunch bargaining, but those talks collapsed on Nov. 22 amid a blizzard of accusations.

 SAG held its first town hall meeting last Monday in Hollywood, with 400 members attending. It’s scheduled two more such gatherings, one in New York on Monday at the Westin Times Square and another Wednesday at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel.

SAG announced late Friday that it had launched a “solidarity statment” campaign for members to declare their support of a “yes” vote. The first signers included Mel Gibson, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Holly Hunter and Martin Sheen, along with board members Scott Bakula, Justine Bateman, Frances Fisher, Elliot Gould, Diane Ladd and Kent McCord.

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