Guild remains committed to major priorities

With the town fretting about a SAG strike, leaders of the Screen Actors Guild have insisted they’re not backing down from any key stances — despite attacks from within the union.

In a move that muddies the outlook for the two weeks until SAG’s contract expires on June 30, the guild’s negotiating committee announced late Friday in a “unity statement” that the panel had unanimously endorsed eight negotiating priorities.

The image-repairing move came a day after SAG had been hit on dual fronts, with the congloms accusing it of stalling at the bargaining table and the guild’s New York board members unanimously disavowing SAG’s anti-AFTRA campaign.

“We are united and committed to working together in achieving the best possible contract for the benefit of all actors,” the SAG committee said. “We pledge to stand together, united, not allowing ourselves to be distracted from our crucial and singular mission by anyone. No matter what the distraction or from where it may come, this committee will continue to stand firm to achieve the best contract possible. We are standing up for you and ask you to stand strong with us.”

That statement underlines the growing concerns that SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers will not reach a deal soon — and probably not before the June 30 expiration of the feature-primetime contract. SAG’s negotiations will move into their 30th day today.

SAG’s eight priorities are not a surprise: gains in middle-class actor compensation, pension and health contributions from employers, DVD residuals, protection from product integration abuse, preservation of force majeure protections, new-media clip consent and new-media jurisdiction and residuals.

SAG’s leaders have described those areas as crucial over the past week and a half as part of the guild’s campaign to persuade its 44,000 members who also belong to AFTRA to vote down AFTRA’s ratification of that union’s primetime deal. SAG leaders hope to force AFTRA to return to the bargaining table and negotiate an improved pact that will make it less likely that producers will opt for an AFTRA deal over one with SAG.

SAG’s New York reps had called the campaign “unconscionable” and a waste of $150,000, asserting that AFTRA members have the right to decide on the deal for themselves without interference. AFTRA kept up the battle with SAG on Friday, issuing an extensive announcement defending its new deal and blasting SAG on half a dozen points.

For example, AFTRA contended that SAG’s criticism over AFTRA giving up significant jurisdiction in new media is bogus.

“Under the existing AFTRA and SAG contracts, it’s completely up to the producer to decide whether a new-media program will be a union show,” it said. “Under the new AFTRA agreement, all derivative productions and all original productions over certain budget thresholds ($15,000/minute or $300,000/program or $500,000/series, whichever is lowest) must be union shows. Moreover, original productions with budgets below the threshold fall under union jurisdiction any time there is a ‘covered performer’ employed in the production.”

AFTRA also blistered SAG for still insisting on a gain in DVDs when no other union’s been able to do so.

“In their negotiations earlier this year with both the WGA and the DGA, the studios made it clear that the proposal to increase DVD compensation rates was a non-starter,” AFTRA said. “Against this backdrop, AFTRA felt it made sense to focus its energies on issues where progress could be made.”

AMPTP had issued its blast on Thursday after SAG president Alan Rosenberg asserted that he was skeptical that the guild would reach an agreement before June 30. SAG fired back by asserting that it is “possible” to make a deal by June 30 — but only if AMPTP will relent on its positions, insisting that the guild’s made all the concessions so far.

Hollywood remains uncertain as to whether SAG will strike. A walkout would require 75% support in an authorization by members. Rosenberg said recently that no decision has been made on seeking a strike authorization from the guild’s 120,000 members.

The AMPTP accused SAG of being selfish for not considering how its go-slow approach has affected the biz.

“Any effort by SAG to drag out these negotiations past June 30 would be a disservice to the people in this industry whose livelihoods are being put on hold,” the AMPTP said. “SAG’s inability to close this deal has already put the industry into another de facto strike, limiting the greenlighting of features and disrupting pilot production.”

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