New York guild urges mediation

Frustrated by the seven-week contract stalemate between the Screen Actors Guild and the majors, the guild’s New York leaders have demanded that a federal mediator be brought in to jump-start the talks.

SAG’s New York Division board issued the advisory resolution Sunday, insisting that a mediator be summoned if there’s no progress at the bargaining table by next week. The resolution —which was immediately repudiated by SAG president Alan Rosenberg — noted SAG members are losing more than $1.7 million per week by working under the terms of the expired feature-TV agreement instead of the majors’ proposed offer.

“All of us in New York, Hollywood and across the country should be concerned about how this failure to reach an agreement is impacting our members,” said N.Y. SAG president Sam Freed. “They have already suffered significantly as a result of the WGA strike, and now they are experiencing an additional loss of work, made worse when they can find a job, by having to work without a contract under old terms and conditions. There are some who feel we have all the time in the world to make this deal. We on the N.Y. board do not.”

The New York statement also accused SAG’s leaders of playing politics by not moving forward on the contract until after the guild’s election concludes Sept. 18. Rosenberg issued a blistering response that made the same accusation.

“This advisory motion is not in the best interests of New York Division SAG members or any SAG members across the country,” he said. “It could tend to delay and prolong the negotiations by emboldening management with a false belief that SAG actors are split on the issues. The plainly political nature of this action is cynical and unfortunate.”

SAG national exec director Doug Allen also threw cold water on the idea of a mediator in a statement Sunday, contending that using mediation had not been effective in preventing the WGA strike last fall.

“Mediation does not guarantee that negotiations will accelerate to an agreement and often has slowed the process down, as recently seen in the WGA negotiations which included mediation,” Allen said. “It has not, up to this point, been viewed as something the parties feel would facilitate an agreement.”

And in yet another sign of the deep bitterness between SAG’s Hollywood leaders and the reps in the rest of the country, Rosenberg also complained that the New York leaders had been duplicitous by not informing SAG’s negotiating committee Wednesday about the resolution — which he said had been passed in executive session two days earlier.

Disclosure of the latest SAG infighting came on the heels of guild insisting it’s still engaged in contract talks with the majors — while the congloms have countered by saying SAG’s all wet.

SAG said in an email message to members late Friday that SAG negotiators and industry representatives continue to have “informal” discussions. “It is not at all unusual for both parties in large negotiations like ours to meet in smaller, more manageable groups to talk about remaining outstanding issues in an effort to reach accord.”

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers shot back over the weekend by denying SAG’s assertions.

“Every effort by SAG’s negotiators to reopen these talks to fundamentally alter the new-media terms and make unreasonable economic demands has been flatly and consistently rejected by the producers at every level of these talks,” the group said. “The AMPTP’s position on its final offer could not be any clearer, and no amount of dead-of-the-night emails by SAG leaders is going to change the fundamental facts. Negotiations concluded when the producers presented their final offer on June 30, 2008, and no meetings, formal or informal, are scheduled.”

The AMPTP also tweaked SAG for its failure to make a deal, noting that SAG actors continue to work under the lower terms of the expired contract. “The undisputed fact is that, until SAG’s negotiators make a deal, their members will work indefinitely under an expired contract, enjoying none of the pay increases, protections or new-media residuals that all of the other guilds are receiving,” it said.

Allen fired back on Sunday by accusing the AMPTP of lying.

“As the AMPTP knows, and as we have reported to our members on several occasions, substantive discussions about contract issues have occurred with CEOs, AMPTP committee members and staff on a continuing basis since the last formal meeting of the full committees,” he said. “The details of those discussions are confidential. Any suggestion that this is not the case is intentional misdirection and completely false.”

Studio sources said Sunday that the current imbroglio over the status of negotiations may stem from SAG’s belief that a phone call to an exec can be interpreted as actual bargaining. “What’s been going on clearly does not rise to the level of negotiations,” one added.

The back-and-forth missives mirrored a similar exchange on Aug. 3 and 4 when SAG made the same assertion of progress toward a deal. At that point, the AMPTP emphatically denied that any meetings — formal or informal — had taken place since the two sides last met on July 16, when the AMPTP spurned a SAG counter-offer at that point.

The AMPTP has reiterated since then that SAG must agree to a deal that’s in line with the final offer it handed SAG on June 30, the day the previous contract expired. “The AMPTP is always interested in exploring ways to reach an agreement, and if SAG has an approach that’s consistent with the parameters of our June 30 final offer then we are open to hearing that,” it said in the Aug. 4 statement.

The latest exchange underscores what Hollywood already knows — that the two sides still face formidable obstacles, since SAG’s continuing to insist it must get a better deal than the other Hollywood guilds did earlier this year.

In the latest email, SAG said the full committees of SAG and the AMPTP will meet face-to-face when the two sides reach a deal but added that the guild can’t agree to the majors’ new-media proposal — even though it mirrors the new-media provisions of the DGA, WGA and AFTRA agreements. “Your negotiating team remains committed to opposing the AMPTP’s proposals to produce original made-for-new-media productions nonunion, with no residuals,” SAG said.

The guild also said in the Friday message that the majority of other issues had been resolved with SAG making “significant compromises,” but did not specify which areas. Both sides have acknowledged previously that gaps remained on new media, product integration, force majeure, mileage reimbursement and DVD residuals.

SAG concluded Friday’s message by dismissing the AMPTP’s now-dead sweetener proposal, under which the final offer would have applied retroactively to July 1, had SAG ratified the deal by Friday. The AMPTP’s asked repeatedly that SAG send out the final offer to its 120,000 members but the national board’s only action in the interim has been to endorse a statement of support for SAG negotiators on the issue of new-media jurisdiction.

A counter on the AMPTP’s website said that SAG’s refusal to ratify has cost SAG members a total of $11 million as of midday Sunday. But SAG said the guild can’t agree to a bad deal.

“They hope this threat will stampede our membership to take a bad deal,” SAG said. “The risk that actors may not receive increases retroactively is more than offset by the long-term damage that would result from a premature deal that eliminates residuals for work done for new media and reused on new media, or from allowing signatory producers to produce nonunion.”

The battle for control of the SAG national board centers on 11 Hollywood seats out of 71. The Membership First faction, led by Rosenberg, is attempting to maintain its slim majority and has brought on Scott Bakula, Keith Carradine and Joely Fisher as part of its slate to fend off a challenge for control of the 11 Hollywood seats from the newly formed Unite for Strength coalition, which features Adam Arkin, Amy Brennamen and Kate Walsh.

Unite for Strength has accused Membership First of “failed negotiating strategies,” pointing to SAG’s hostilities in pushing AFTRA toward abandoning joint negotiations. Membership First has blasted back by stressing that many of the Unite for Strength candidates have supported “qualified voting,” which would limit voting on contracts to those members who meet a work requirement.

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