Guild seeking gains in pay, new media

Is there a way for SAG to save face?

Negotiations between the actors guild and the majors resume this morning after a three-day recess. The sides return to the bargaining table amid pervasive uncertainty as to whether they can bridge the significant gaps between them and close a deal in the next four weeks.

SAG’s current feature-primetime deal expires June 30, but SAG’s leaders, after talking tough for more than a year, still haven’t taken the final step of seeking a strike authorization — which requires 75% support.

SAG’s fellow thesp union, AFTRA, cut a primetime deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers last month. Given the assertive stances by SAG national exec director Doug Allen and president Alan Rosenberg and their animosity toward AFTRA, it’s unlikely that SAG leaders will accept a carbon copy of the AFTRA pact.

“SAG’s in a tough spot,” notes Howard Fabrick of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, who’s negotiated past deals with SAG. “I feel like the tide is running against them with AFTRA having made their deal now. A lot of their working members in TV were hurt by the WGA strike, so the leadership may not be able to get the support that would be required in a strike authorization vote.”

Today’s negotiations will be the 22nd session between SAG and the majors at AMPTP headquarters in Encino. It’s the fourth session since rival union AFTRA completed its primetime deal with the AMPTP, leaving the question of how much of that deal can serve as a template for SAG.

Allen and Rosenberg still haven’t weighed in on the merits of the AFTRA deal, which covers about 10 primetime shows. AFTRA ditched its tradition of jointly negotiating the primetime contract with SAG in March following a bitter jurisdictional dispute between the unions.

Rosenberg told members a week ago that key differences remained on seven key issues including clip consent, DVD residuals, force majeure, new-media jurisdiction, product integration, middle-class actor coverage and residuals on made-for-Internet productions. The hike in DVD residuals remains a nonstarter for the companies, given their rock-hard resistance to any give on the issue to any of the guilds.

So that leaves several other issues as the most likely areas in which companies might be able to concede enough for SAG leaders to be able to claim a significant advance and ask its members to endorse a deal:

  • Middle-class actors. AFTRA scored a hike in the major role minimum for a half-hour show, now $4,080, to $4,321 effective July 1 and $4,606 by 2010; SAG might be able to make other gains.

  • Clips consent. AFTRA was able to get the AMPTP to budge somewhat on the issue of clips distributed online, with actors retaining their consent rights at the time they’re hired on a project, while the sides agreed to develop a mechanism for actor consent on library product; SAG may be able to hammer out more specific language.

  • Force majeure. AFTRA didn’t advance; SAG has claims against companies over how actors were compensated, or not compensated, for forced downtime during the WGA strike.

  • New-media jurisdiction. AFTRA was able to include a provision that gives it jurisdiction when a performer is “covered,” meaning that the thesp meets a requirement of having performed covered work previously. SAG’s asking that it cover all new-media projects rather than accept the AMPTP’s proposal that SAG accept the same budgetary thresholds as the DGA and the WGA.

  • Product integration. AFTRA didn’t advance; SAG’s asking for language that gives thesps veto power over having to pitch products within features and TV series. It’s possible that language could be worked out that would offer actors the ability to opt out of specific instances — such as already having a deal to endorse a competing product.

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