Studios accuse SAG of stalling talks

Alliance frustrated with Rosenberg, union

With the town’s patience running thin, the majors have taken the gloves off and accused the Screen Actors Guild of deliberately stalling at the bargaining table.

Thursday afternoon’s angry proclamation — which accused SAG leaders of lying and wasting the congloms’ time — came after guild president Alan Rosenberg asserted that he was skeptical that SAG would reach an agreement before its feature-primetime pact expires on June 30.

That assessment fired up the congloms, which had previously maintained a far less confrontational tone when complaining about SAG’s go-slow approach.

“We are frustrated and discouraged that on June 12, with 18 days left in the month, SAG’s Hollywood leadership is already saying that it’s unlikely a deal will be made by June 30,” the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said in an unusually blunt and lengthy statement. “We hope that (Rosenberg’s) statement does not signal the intention of SAG’s Hollywood leaders to bring our industry to a halt. We remain committed to working as hard as we can to reach our fifth labor agreement of 2008 by June 30.”

SAG fired back by asserting that it is “possible” to make a deal by June 30 — but only if the AMPTP will relent on its positions. SAG insisted the guild’s made all the concessions so far.

“Negotiations are about give and take; thus far it has primarily been SAG’s negotiating committee ‘giving,'” SAG said in a statement. “Management’s time would be better spent by committing to real progress and substantive negotiation of our various proposals.”

The latest contretemps will increase Hollywood’s fear that SAG actors will strike — although Rosenberg’s also said that no decision’s 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 leisurely approach has affected the biz.

Rosenberg and SAG national exec director Doug Allen have blamed the lack of progress on rival thesp union AFTRA for having reached a separate primetime deal two weeks ago — leading SAG leaders to attempt to persuade its 44,000 dual members to vote down the AFTRA deal.

But the AMPTP declared Thursday that it is SAG’s fault that the negotiations are stalled, and they repeated the accusation by AFTRA leaders that SAG has spent most of its time campaigning to against the AFTRA pact.

SAG’s key gripes about the terms of the AFTRA deal include new-media jurisdiction and residuals, product placement, force majeure, gas mileage reimbursement and DVD residuals.

Despite SAG’s assertions that it’s going full force toward making a deal, many believe the guild plans to stall at the bargaining table until July 7, when results of the AFTRA vote are announced. The AMPTP’s missive — sent as a notice to its member companies — buttressed that assessment and noted that SAG had dragged its feet ever since Feb. 14, when the majors made their request to start talks ASAP.

“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.

“While we have made some progress with SAG, we are still far apart on fundamental issues,” the AMPTP said. “We remain committed to making a fair and reasonable agreement before the June 30 deadline and are pushing ahead despite the rallies, meetings and events to which SAG’s Hollywood leadership has recently devoted considerable time and energy (often during hours that are usually reserved for negotiations).”

Rosenberg and Allen received a warm response at Monday’s rally outside SAG’s Hollywood headquarters and at Wednesday’s town hall meeting to urge a no vote on the AFTRA deal. SAG’s strategy is to force AFTRA to make a better deal, partly to reduce the incentive for producers working in areas of shared jurisdiction to go with AFTRA rather than SAG.

SAG’s talks started April 16 and recessed May 6 with the AMPTP insisting that it had to start the twice-delayed talks with AFTRA, whose contract is also up June 30. Rosenberg protested and claimed at that point that SAG was “within hours” of a deal.

In Thursday’s announcement, the AMPTP also repeated AFTRA’s accusation that SAG is interfering with the affairs of another union. The majors said SAG threw a monkey wrench into the negotiations with its insistence on changing the framework for new-media compensation agreed to in deals earlier this year with the DGA, WGA and AFTRA — after asserting that SAG was willing to work within that framework.

The majors claimed that SAG’s demands in traditional media would result in “enormous additional financial burdens.” Instead, the AMPTP said it’s being generous in its offer to SAG, given the current economic climate in showbiz and the nation.

SAG’s Hollywood leaders took another hit Thursday from the guild’s New York leaders, who have often sided with AFTRA in similar disputes, as all the SAG board members from that branch disavowed the anti-AFTRA campaign. The reps also said the issue should have been decided by the full board rather than the smaller national exec committee, which approved the campaign on a 13-10 vote.

“More importantly, the New York board opposes this unconscionable attempt to interfere with the internal business of a sister union because it has no strategic value for our negotiations, because it will waste $150,000 of the members’ dues money, because it may result in costly legal battles for the guild and because it will forever tarnish our image as a union,” the New York leaders said.

“We feel strongly that AFTRA members have the right to decide for themselves whether this contract is acceptable, without interference from any outside organization, and we believe it is imperative that SAG leadership focus on our ongoing negotiations with the AMPTP and not divert any more time, energy or dues money to attacking a union upon which 45,000 of its own members depend.”

But SAG insisted its statement that its negotiating committee is “united” in its commitment to completing negotiations.

“We hope we can count on an equal effort from management,” SAG said.

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