Execs toy with diplomacy as labor talks heat up

With SAG contract talks going nowhere fast, speculation’s rising that Peter Chernin and Robert Iger will resume their diplomatic mission with the guild following a two-month hiatus.

No meetings have been set yet, but hope’s emerged that informal powwows between the studio toppers and SAG brass could serve to break the logjam that’s been the dominant feature of the last three weeks of negotiations — even with the approach of the June 30 expiration of the SAG feature-primetime deal.

Lack of resolution of SAG’s contract has led the congloms to put the brakes on production starts for features and TV pilots. Talks hit their 33rd day Wednesday at the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers’ Sherman Oaks HQ, and they are expected to resume tomorrow morning.

With frustration mounting on the company side over the lack of movement in recent days, the notion of Iger and Cherin attempting to salvage the stalemate has been gaining traction. But with SAG leaders apparently fixated on spending the next three weeks trying to defeat the ratification of the AFTRA deal, there’s no guarantee the moguls will step forward.

As they had done earlier with the directors and writers, News Corp. prexy Chernin and Disney CEO Iger met with SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg and national exec director Doug Allen in early April in an effort to come to an agreement on the agenda for the formal bargaining seshes.

That session was cordial but not particularly substantive, with Chernin and Iger making it clear to guild leaders that the AMPTP has no plans to deviate significantly from the template established in the DGA and WGA contracts reached earlier this year. At that point, the moguls opted to back away and let the formal negotiations processs play out (Daily Variety, April 10).

Reps for the AMPTP declined comment Wednesday. Meanwhile, the SAG-AFTRA brawl heated up thanks to the battle of the dueling robo-calls.

A week after AFTRA members began receiving automated phone calls from James Cromwell in support of ratifying AFTRA’s primetime deal, SAG struck back with calls from Sandra Oh urging the 44,000 dual cardholders to vote down the AFTRA pact. Allen said that the SAG counteroffensive has been cooked up in response to AFTRA’s recent “fear campaign” to convince dual-card members that a no vote is a vote for strike.

“This is wrong and is fear-mongering,” Allen said in a statement Wednesday. “A no vote simply sends AFTRA back to the table with SAG to get a better deal. The AMPTP will then be unable to pit one union against the other, and actors can only benefit from that.”

Allen didn’t explain his apparent assumption that AFTRA and SAG would go back to the table together if the AFTRA deal’s voted down. It’s a questionable scenario in the light of the toxic relations between the two unions.

Allen also blasted AFTRA’s message as “extraordinarily deceptive and divisive” and added, “We cannot allow their disinformation to go unchecked.”

SAG notified board members Wednesday morning of the Oh messages that would be going out to members later in the day and told them that similar calls would be placed to members over the next week or so.

Oh delivered a fiery speech in support of striking writers at the conclusion of the WGA’s march on Hollywood Boulevard last November. SAG was the closest union ally of the WGA during the work stoppage.

The AMPTP accused SAG last week of lying and wasting the congloms’ time by stalling the talks until around July 8, when ratification ballots are due back and results of voting are expected to be announced.

SAG’s insisted that AFTRA’s deal falls short in a wide array of key areas, including salary minimums, online clip consent, DVD residuals, new-media pay rates and jurisdiction, force majeure and product integration protections. Its leaders have asserted a no vote will force AFTRA and the companies to make a better deal.

AFTRA continued to blast away at SAG Wednesday, defending its deal and insisting a no vote will lead to a strike instead.

“The no vote SAG Hollywood is trying to foment on the Exhibit A contract is a strike vote for the kind of industry chaos that has already shut down the movie industry and would paralyze television,” the union said. “Don’t underestimate what’s at stake here. If your agreement is not ratified, the employers can and probably will take back many of the gains you’ve already won.”

AFTRA, which reached its deal on May 28 after splitting off from SAG in March, also accused SAG of incompetence and cluelessness in the realities of negotiating a deal.

“It’s easy for the Screen Actors Guild to claim that our deal isn’t good enough and that it can do better,” AFTRA said. “But does anyone –including SAG’s Hollywood leadership — have any idea of exactly how SAG intends to get more from the studios than the Writers Guild, the Directors Guild and AFTRA have all already achieved? The fact is that actions speak louder than words. Don’t be fooled by the spin.”

SAG hasn’t yet set a strike authorization vote, which would take about three weeks to complete and require a 75% approval among those voting.

Besides the Cromwell calls, the AFTRA pro-ratification campaign has included multiple emails, video testimonials on the AFTRA website, set visits by staff, local meetings and house parties hosted by negotiating committee members, member-to-member phone calls, traditional mailings and a pair of upcoming informational meetings in Los Angeles.

AFTRA also announced Wednesday a statement of support from Maria Elena Durazo, exec secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

“Your success at the bargaining table is a testament to the leadership and hard work of the men and women — all working performers — who negotiated the new agreement,” she said. “AFTRA members have won the fight to ensure that jobs in the entertainment and media industry remain good jobs with fair pay, good benefits and safe working conditions. These are challenging times for working people that require a strong voice to speak up and act to support workers and their families.”

DGA president Michael Apted, IATSE topper Tom Short and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had previously issued statements congratulating AFTRA.

The AFTRA shows covered by the deal include “Rules of Engagement,” “Cashmere Mafia,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Flight of the Conchords,” “Dante’s Cove,” ” ‘Til Death,” “Reaper,” the new CBS programs “Project Gary” and “Harper’s Island” and the ABC comedy “Roman’s Empire.”

The current AFTRA contract also expires June 30.

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