SAG inches closer to strike

Authorization to be sent out to members in Dec.

The Screen Actors Guild will send out its strike authorization vote to members next month, making it possible for actors to strike as early as January — prompting a bitter response from the majors.

In a message to SAG’s 120,000 members sent Wednesday, SAG president Alan Rosenberg said a strike would be called by the national board “only if it becomes absolutely necessary.”

“Your leadership believes that we must be empowered with the real threat of a work stoppage in order to let management know that we are committed to protecting the future of all actors,” he wrote. “We ask for your support, knowing that you have entrusted us to fight for your rights, and to protect your wages, working conditions and your health and pension benefits. We take your trust very, very seriously and will work towards reaching a fair agreement without a work stoppage.”

In a move that portends a volley of PR moves over the coming weeks, the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers blasted back at Rosenberg shortly after the missive went out.

“SAG’s latest mass email fails on three counts,” the AMPTP said. “It fails to explain why SAG deserves more than everyone else in the industry. It fails to justify why SAG members should bail out a failed negotiating strategy by striking during a time of historic economic crisis. And it fails to explain why it makes sense to strike when SAG members will lose more during the first few days of the strike than they could ever expect to gain.”

Rosenberg didn’t disclose the exact date when the ballots will go out and SAG will need at least three weeks to conduct the voting. Obtaining a strike authorization requires approval by 75% of those voting and the final decision to strike rests with SAG’s national board.

The move came four days after marathon talks between SAG and the majors broke down amid efforts by a federal mediator to broker a deal. The AMPTP has already warned that if SAG obtains approval of the authorization, a strike becomes inevitable because of SAG’s unwillingness to compromise on its “unrealistic demands.”

The AMPTP has previously blistered SAG leaders “tone deaf” for seeking to go on strike amid the current economic crisis. Rosenberg fired back in the letter SAG’s not to blame.

“It’s also curious that these global corporations are preaching to us about the bad economy,” he added. “Like it’s our fault. As middle-income actors we are the victims of corporate greed. We didn’t cause this turmoil.”

Rosenberg also reiterated his oft-stated view that the companies have to give the guild a better deal than the WGA, DGA, AFTRA and IATSE received. Late in the mediation process, the guild’s negotiating committee had offered to agree to the congloms’ new-media proposal, but only if the AMPTP granted SAG an increase in the DVD residuals rate — long a nonstarter for the companies.

“Management continues to apply its one-size-fits-all demands to SAG actors,” Rosenberg said. “And we continue to stress that actors have unique, reasonable needs that are different, not better, but different, than writers, directors and crewmembers. So they are telling us to allow the unions who negotiated before SAG to be our proxies. I wonder, would NBC ever let ABC negotiate its license fees for them? Of course not, but they think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask us to defer to the needs of other union workers and ignore what is critical to actors and their families.”

Rosenberg did not mention in the missive that AFTRA negotiated its deal covering primetime actors in the late spring, following an angry breakup with SAG. That’s resulted in SAG seeing its jurisdiction over new shows erode (Daily Variety, Nov. 26)

The AMPTP has estimated its offer to SAG, made June 30 as its contract expired, contains about $250 million in increases over the three-year term. As a result, the companies contend, SAG members have missed out $34 million in pay gains since then.

The stalemate between SAG and the congloms has mostly focused on new-media issues, with the companies stressing that they can’t revamp the template that they’ve worked out in six other pacts with unions this year.

Rosenberg said the strike authorization is needed to protect “the art of acting” as new media platforms gain traction.

“Our ability to make our livings as professional actors for decades to come is at stake,” he added. “New media is not an ‘experiment’ as the employers want you to think. It’s their future, and it’s our future.”

He also told SAG members not to believe the “rhetoric” from the companies, adding, “Please read your SAG emails and watch our website for the real facts.”

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