Contract covers only handful of AFTRA series

With negligible progress at the Screen Actors Guild negotiations, the majors are moving toward making the guild a last, best and final offer.

The “final offer” move — a tactic never used during the WGA strike — could come as early as next week, unless SAG changes course and backs away from an array of demands that are nonstarters for the companies, including an increase in DVD residuals and sweeter terms for new-media residuals than those achieved earlier this year by the DGA, WGA and AFTRA.

Talks, which hit their 34th day on Thursday, are said to have been highly unproductive during the past few weeks, with the exasperation level rising for both sides. Negotiations are set to resume today.

The biz is anticipating that production will mostly grind to a halt in another week and a half, even if SAG does not go on strike immediately after the June 30 expiration of its current feature-primetime contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (Daily Variety, June 17).

While the exact timing of the final offer’s still in flux, it’s almost certain that the congloms would present it to SAG before June 30. Should the talks remain at an impasse at that point, it’s likely that studios and nets would pressure SAG by publicly highlighting the financial damage from the production slowdown and the 100-day WGA strike.

In a recent study at the Milken Institute, researchers asserted that the writers strike will cost California $2.1 billion in lost output this year and 37,000 jobs.

The SAG negotiations are believed to have been fruitless since the guild returned to the table on May 28 — the same day that AFTRA reached its primetime deal with the AMPTP. SAG’s distaste for that pact sparked a guild campaign to persuade the 44,000 members who also hold AFTRA cards to vote down that deal.

SAG’s complained that major gaps remain on eight deal points. The companies have stayed mum as to how SAG’s leaders may be swayed to accept a deal that largely mirrors the AFTRA terms, but it’s widely thought the most promising prospect would be in two actor-specific areas: maintaining the current protections in the force majeure language, under which performers on suspended TV series during a strike still receive a portion of their salaries, and establishing protections on product integration that would allow a thesp to veto appearing in a scenes written to make it seem that the actor is endorsing a product.

SAG has millions of dollars in strike-related force majeure claims pending against the producers, who are seeking to remove the requirement from the contract.

Frustration’s been mounting in recent days as it becomes increasingly clear that SAG won’t budge until the AFTRA results are announced around July 8. The AMPTP accused SAG last week of using the AFTRA vote to stall; SAG leaders have turned that vote into a referendum on its ongoing strategy of criticizing AFTRA for being too compliant with employers and for signing deals that encroached on SAG’s turf.

SAG still hasn’t decided whether to take a strike authorization vote, under which 75% of those voting would have to approve if the guild’s to go out on strike subsequently.

Meanwhile, AFTRA has been touting the deal’s merits while asserting in the language contained in the ballot materials that voting no amounts to a strike authorization for the AFTRA board.

AFTRA split from joint negotiations with SAG in March in a jurisdictional spat over soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful.” The two unions continued battling Thursday, with SAG asserting the AFTRA gains in its deal amount to chump change since the pact covers only 10 shows.

“Screen Actors Guild wants real money in real actors’ pockets,” the message began.

The AFTRA shows covered by the deal include “Rules of Engagement,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Flight of the Conchords,” “Dante’s Cove,” “‘Til Death,” “Reaper,” the new CBS programs “Project Gary” and “Harper’s Island” and the ABC comedy pilot “Roman’s Empire.”

The current AFTRA contract also expires June 30.

“AFTRA’s tentative deal currently covers only a handful of AFTRA series,” SAG said. “The aggregate value of the increases achieved in their tentative deal amounts to less than $5 million over three years (when valued using the AMPTP’s methodology and based on AFTRA’s coverage over the past season).”

SAG noted that it covers more than 90% of all primetime scripted dramatic television on the networks and pay TV and covers all features. It said that total SAG earnings from features, network and pay TV over the most recent three-year contract period exceeded $4 billion.

“You don’t have to be a math whiz to see the difference between SAG and AFTRA in this arena,” the guild said. “Send AFTRA back to bargain together with SAG, for a fair contract. Vote no on the AFTRA deal.”

AFTRA had no official response, but a source close to the AFTRA board ridiculed the SAG missive.

“Either SAG’s Hollywood leadership is stupid or they think AFTRA’s members are stupid,” the source said. “What possible sense does it make to compare the dollar value of the increases in the new AFTRA primetime TV contract to total SAG earnings from all media over the last three years? That’s not apples and oranges — it’s fish and bicycles. What might make sense would be to compare the value of the increases AFTRA won to the increase SAG has won. The only problem with this is that SAG hasn’t won any increases for its members — perhaps because it’s been too busy trying to undermine the AFTRA deal to be able to negotiate one of its own.”

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