Guild still wants to negotiate majors' final offer

SAG’s remaining in stall mode — despite a warning that the congloms may have to scale back their final offer if the economy worsens.

The guild’s leaders insisted in a statement early Friday evening that they still want to negotiate over the majors’ final offer even though the companies pulled the plug on further bargaining 11 days ago. In response the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers told SAG it’s wrong and that the final offer is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition which won’t be revised.

SAG national exec director Doug Allen reiterated that SAG’s refusal at Thursday’s meeting with the AMPTP to accept the deal does not amount to a rejection.

“Instead, we made a comprehensive counter proposal that adopted some of their proposals and offered alternatives on others,” Allen said in a statement. “We significantly narrowed the gap between us while remaining committed to the principles of our bargaining priorities.”

In response, AMPTP said SAG has badly misinterpreted the situation.

“A counterproposal to a final offer is a rejection of the final offer,” said spokesman Jesse Hiestand. “It can’t be anything else.”

SAG also disclosed that its negotiating committee had met Friday and “remains committed to continuing to bargain for a fair contract.”

SAG had no comment about the warning of a possible reduction in terms, which came in closing remarks Thursday from Carol Lombardini, exec VP of the AMPTP. Thursday’s session — the first in eight days — had been singularly unproductive, with SAG leaders refusing the AMPTP’s request to take the final offer to members.

Lombardini’s remarks, which hadn’t been disclosed until today, showed that the majors are playing hardball with SAG at a time when economic conditions are declining. The final offer came a few hours before the guild’s contract expired June 30.

“It is no secret that we are in a deteriorating economy,” Lombardini said. “Our companies are not immune from the effects of this economic slowdown. It is very possible that, as a result of changing economic conditions, we will have to reevaluate the offer we have on the table.”

She reminded SAG that further delays will imperil about $10 million in retroactive pay that thesps would receive if the pact’s ratified by Aug. 15. And she noted that the uncertainty will continue to impact ongoing production with each feature that doesn’t go forward resulting in fewer jobs and lost earnings for actors.

“The risks are even greater in television,” Lombardini added. “Continued uncertainty over contract status further jeopardizes scripted programming.”

SAG’s insisted that it deserves a better deal than the DGA, WGA and AFTRA in such areas as new media jurisdiction and DVD residuals. But it hasn’t yet taken a strike authorization vote amid signs that it would probably not be able to achieve the required 75% support level to stage a walkout.

Lombardini said she wasn’t surprised by SAG spurning the final offer, given its public distaste for the deal.

“But we are disappointed,” she added. “We are disappointed because either we have failed to convince you that this is the best possible deal you can achieve or, alternatively, because you continue to adhere to the notion that the package we have offered just isn’t enough for you, especially when comparable deals have been approved by writers, directors and actors.”

Lombardini stressed that the congloms will not improve their offer.

“I can tell you that, for us, this isn’t the best deal,” she said. ” There are many areas of our business that need to be addressed that this contract does not fix. But we believe, putting our wishes and desires aside, that this is the best deal we can achieve with you.”

The AMPTP has asserted that the offer’s worth $250 million in salary gains to SAG members over three years while Allen’s disputed that estimate.

“We believe we presented you an extremely fair and lucrative package, particularly given the economic times we live in,” Lombardini said, noting that the increase in the Major Role performer rate in the first year of this contract is close to 6%.

“That would be an outsized increase in any contract cycle, but given today’s economy and the size of increases in general in other labor agreements, this is a large bump,” she added. ” Adding more money to this economic package would not only be unjustified, it would be irresponsible on our part. Therefore, the money is not going to change.”

Lombardini also said the companies won’t alter the new media framework it’s proposed because that portion of the proposed pact needs to be in line with the other talent guilds.

“We understand that you want more,” she added. “I’ve never participated in a negotiation where one side or the other doesn’t. But now you have to decide. You can accept this deal, hold your heads up high, knowing that you have achieved the best deal attainable. Or you can continue to refuse to accept our final offer.”

SAG president Alan Rosenberg said Thursday that it would be a waste of time for guild leaders to accede to the majors’ request that the offer be sent to the guild’s 120,000 members.

“We’re not ready to send this to our members,” he added. “We can’t recommend a deal that they won’t approve.”

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