Guild counters but stalemate continues
SAG’s still not ready to close a deal with the majors — signaling that the thesps’ contract stalemate will linger on into the late summer.The guild on Thursday officially rejected the final offer by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers on grounds the pact falls short in such areas as new media and DVD residuals, along with product integration and force majeure protections. SAG made several counteroffers but the majors insisted they’re done negotiating and that the final offer is indeed final. SAG president Alan Rosenberg told Daily Variety that guild leaders also spurned 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.” The AMPTP responded by saying that any further delay in reaching a deal is a “disservice” to the thousands of working people already being harmed by the production slowdown. “The last thing we need is a long, hot summer of labor strife that puts even more pressure on a badly struggling economy and deprives audiences of the entertainment they clearly desire in such difficult times,” it added. SAG national exec director Doug Allen took issue with the characterization that SAG had rejected the final offer. “We accepted pieces of their offer,” he said. “And we made several big moves in their direction. So to say we rejected is not fair.” The congloms responded by blasting SAG leaders for foot-dragging and being unrealistic in believing that SAG deserves a better deal than the DGA, WGA and AFTRA. “Today’s meeting demonstrated that SAG’s Membership First contingent unreasonably expects to obtain more in these negotiations than directors, writers and other actors obtained during their negotiations. AMPTP has already achieved four major labor agreements this year,” the AMPTP said. “The refusal of SAG’s Hollywood leadership to accept this offer is the latest in a series of actions by SAG leaders that, in our opinion, puts labor peace at risk.” Rosenberg and Allen would not disclose the guild’s counterproposals but it’s believed SAG agree to the congloms’ proposed salary minimums. But the guild held back on other major concessions such as insisting on jurisdiction over all new media and keeping a DVD residual hike on the table. SAG’s negotiating committee meets today but it hasn’t set another get-together with the AMPTP. It’s unclear what happens next. SAG’s official rejection of the final offer and AMPTP’s request for a membership vote sets the stage for a possible move by the majors to declare an impasse and impose the terms and conditions of the new offer. SAG’s rejection came even though its strike threat has waned due to the ratification on Tuesday of AFTRA’s primetime pact despite SAG’s fervent lobbying of its 44,000 members who also belong to AFTRA. Because of the high hurdle SAG faces in getting 75% of its members to back a strike, speculation is mounting in the biz that studios may gamble on moving forward with new feature productions despite the uncertainty created by the SAG contract limbo. Rosenberg said SAG still hasn’t scheduled a strike authorization vote. SAG’s previous contract expired June 30. In the days leading up to Thursday’s meeting, SAG leaders had given every indication that the guild was going to spurn the AMPTP’s deal and opt to extend the talks. For their part, the congloms say their offer, made a few hours before SAG’s contract expired last week, contains more than $250 million in pay increases over three years — with terms matching the just-ratified AFTRA primetime deal. SAG’s rejection came two days after it lost leverage by failing to defeat the AFTRA deal, which was approved by 62% of those voting. And Thursday’s rejection imperils the guild’s prospects of obtaining an additional $10 million for members via a retroactivity provision that takes effect if the guild ratifies the deal by Aug. 15. In addition, AFTRA is now free to cut into SAG jurisdiction by signing new TV shows shot on digital to its deal. Although the majors may move soon to impose the new contract terms, there’s a growing consensus that they may not opt to go with the impasse strategy. That route contains the potential drawback that SAG would probably be able to go to court and tie up implementation of the new terms and conditions. Instead, the lack of resolution plus SAG’s failure to defeat the AFTRA deal have led to a growing consensus among producers that SAG’s not going to strike — as long as the congloms don’t inflame the situation by locking out actors. For SAG, the 75% support required in a strike authorization vote is a longshot given the worsening economy, the lingering hangover from the WGA strike and SAG’s inability to persuade enough of its 44,000 members who also belong to AFTRA to vote down that deal. A strike authorization vote would take about three weeks. Producers had pulled the plug on most film shooting by June 30 due to the uncertainty over a SAG strike. But more than a dozen TV series and pilots remained in production along with some of the 355 indie features that signed guild waivers — and with SAG looking unlikely to strike, that activity may begin returning to normal levels sooner rather than later. One attraction for companies pondering that route at this point: Productions would be shot under the less expensive terms and conditions of the expired SAG deal.