Sticking point: Non-union work in new media

The monthlong contract stalemate between SAG and the majors shows no signs of a breakthrough anytime soon.

Instead, both sides have settled in for continued sniping — probably for the rest of the summer — as SAG’s national board voted unanimously Saturday to back its negotiating committee’s stance that the majors’ final offer is unacceptable in the new-media provisions.

The panel reiterated SAG’s contentions that it can’t endorse a deal that allows non-union work in low-budget productions and doesn’t guarantee residuals for new-media programming replayed on digital platforms. As expected, SAG leaders didn’t discuss taking a strike authorization vote, a difficult move since that would require 75% approval among the guild’s 120,000 members.

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers responded that it’s done with SAG negotiations and it’s not going to revise the month-old final offer. The AMPTP’s been spurned repeatedly in its requests to SAG to send the offer to members and no new meetings have been set — indicating that SAG members will continue to work for the time being under terms of the feature-primetime deal that expired June 30.

SAG national exec director Doug Allen told Daily Variety that singling out the two new-media issues as priorities is designed to narrow down unresolved deal points and move toward a tentative deal with the AMPTP. However, that strategy’s unlikely to gain much traction since SAG hasn’t removed other demands — such as a DVD increase and giving actors veto power over product integration — and opposes the companies’ demand for a revamp of force majeure language.

“If we could address these two issues with the companies, it would help us get the new-media part of the deal done,” Allen said. “There’s certainly not that much distance between us on the other issues.”

The union’s resolution said, “It is a core principle of (the) Screen Actors Guild — That no non-union work shall be authorized to be done under any Screen Actors Guild agreement and; That all work under a Screen Actors Guild contract, regardless of budget level, shall receive fair compensation when reused.”

The AMPTP tweaked SAG in its response and installed counters on its web site at amptp.org that keep a running tab on the pay increases and new-media residuals that SAG members are missing out on by continuing to work under a contract that expired June 30. The pay increase number was $6.1 million as of mid-afternoon Sunday.

The AMPTP’s offer of a $10 million retroactivity provision is conditional on SAG ratifying the current offer by Aug. 15. But with the ratification process needing about three weeks, SAG has probably run out of time to take advantage of the $10 million sweetener.

“The continued refusal of SAG’s negotiators to accept AMPTP’s final offer means that actors will continue to work indefinitely under the expired contract — an old contract that contains none of the $250 million in additional compensation provided by AMPTP’s final offer, and an old contract that provides none of the new-media rights and residuals that other Hollywood Guild members have now been enjoying for months,” it said.

SAG noted that its resolution, passed 68-0, represented “guidance” for its negotiating committee. Allen said the resolution reiterates what he’s been telling the majors.

“For some time, we have been telling the industry how important it is for all new-media productions under our contract to be done union and how important residuals for made-for new media programming are when programs are re-run on new media,” he said in a statement. “I am very pleased that our national board today unanimously confirmed these essential principles in support of our national negotiating committee.”

SAG has asserted repeatedly that it must get a better deal than the DGA, WGA and AFTRA in new media. The AMPTP’s noted that SAG has permitted non-union Internet production under its contract since 2001 and said it’s offered to extend SAG jurisdiction to original new-media production, including low-budget programs that employ a single “covered” actor.

The unanimous agreement by SAG’s national board came despite deep divisions between those repping Hollywood and the rest of the country, with a combative election campaign already under way for control of the board, currently held by the Membership First faction headed by president Alan Rosenberg.

Passage of the resolution gave both sides the opportunity to demonstrate their support for the negotiating committee — even though Membership First opponents have blasted Allen and Rosenberg, particularly on the issue of opposing AFTRA’s primetime deal.

SAG and the AMPTP last met in an off-the-record meeting on July 16. The lack of resolution of SAG’s contract has slowed down but not completely stopped major feature production. TV production has been largely unaffected.

The SAG board also learned Saturday that Peter Frank has resigned from his chief financial officer slot for personal reasons, with Allen saying that he’s leaving with the guild in “excellent” financial condition. Frank served as an interim national exec director in the year after the board fired Greg Hessinger and before Allen was installed into the slot in early 2007.

Membership First formally unveiled its slate of 33 candidates Friday. The list includes newcomers Keith Carradine, Scott Bakula, Alan Ruck and Joely Fisher and incumbents Joe Bologna, Lainie Kazan and JoBeth Williams.

Membership First’s control of SAG’s national board is facing a challenge from a newly formed group dubbed Unite for Strength, whose prominent members include Adam Arkin, Amy Brenneman, Doug Savant, Marcia Wallace and Kate Walsh. The Unite for Strength platform calls for pursuing a merger with AFTRA in an effort to strengthen actors’ overall bargaining position by ending the long-running hostilities between the two camps.

The SAG-AFTRA feud hit a new height this year in AFTRA’s decision to negotiate its primetime contract separately from SAG for the first time in 27 years, and in SAG’s decision to wage a vigorous campaign to encourage dual SAG-AFTRA members vote against the deal. AFTRA members ratified the deal with 62% support on July 8.

In its position statement Friday, Membership First reiterated its overarching goals to “unite all actors under the Screen Actors Guild banner, protect actors’ wages and working conditions in all areas, fight for residuals in all media platforms, protect the right of every dues paying member to vote on SAG issues and to secure complete jurisdiction in new media.”

Membership First holds a narrow majority on the board with about a third of the seats up for election, including 11 that rep Hollywood. Besides Bologna, Carradine, Fisher, Kazan and Williams, other notables on its slate include negotiating committee members Jane Austin and David Jolliffe and the last two winners of SAG’s Ralph Morgan service award, Yale Summers and Scott Wilson.

Unite for Strength slate organizers Ned Vaughn and Brenneman led an unsuccessful effort earlier this year to persuade the SAG board to institute “qualified voting” on contracts — meaning that actors would have to meet a work requirement to be allowed to vote on contract approvals and strike authorizations. Membership First is opposed to qualified voting.

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