Guild won't endorse AFTRA primetime deal

With SAG and AFTRA still at loggerheads, it’s clear that the Screen Actors Guild won’t endorse AFTRA’s week-old primetime deal.

Beyond that, however, SAG’s keeping Hollywood guessing as it enters the 24th day of feature-primetime talks today.

The two key questions:

  • Will SAG attempt to torpedo the AFTRA pact by advising the 44,000 members who also belong to AFTRA that they should vote against ratification? AFTRA’s national board will meet Friday and Saturday to approve the May 28 deal and send it out to the 70,000 AFTRA members.

  • Will SAG ask its 120,000 members for strike authorization, which requires 75% approval? The guild’s running out of time to seek such authorization so it will have the option of calling a strike once its contract expires on June 30; its national executive committee is expected to meet in the next few days to make that call since an authorization vote would need at least two weeks to complete.

Both steps carry major risks for SAG. Campaigning against the AFTRA deal could have a significant downside if the pact receives a strong endorsement from AFTRA members; likewise, taking a strike authorization vote carries plenty of potential blowback since the necessary approval level may not be achieved.

SAG hasn’t weighed in yet on the merits of the AFTRA deal. But its leaders have made it clear that AFTRA’s gains — most notably, in salary minimums, online clip consent and jurisdiction over low-budget made-for-Internet productions — aren’t going to be enough for SAG to close a deal.

That’s not a surprise given the enmity between the two performers unions, which are negotiating separately on primetime for the first time in three decades following a series of bitter disputes over jurisdiction.

Speculation has emerged that SAG president Alan Rosenberg and national exec director Doug Allen indicated in a recent meeting with Sony Pictures topper Michael Lynton that the guild planned to campaign against the AFTRA deal. But several people close to the situation cautioned that Rosenberg and Allen had merely expressed a strong desire to make a better deal than AFTRA’s.

Meanwhile, the SAG leaders were told in the meeting that they won’t be able to resort to the less-formal talks used in the DGA and WGA negotiations, with Disney CEO Robert Iger and News Corp. prexy Peter Chernin coming aboard to hash out the general outlines of those deals.

“There was a frank and cordial exchange of views, and we said how important it was to the industry that a deal be reached as soon as possible, and the best way to do that is by negotiating with the AMPTP, so we hope everyone’s energies can be focused in that direction,” said Sony spokesman James Kennedy in a statement.

SAG and AFTRA had no comment about the Sony meeting.

One Wall Street analyst has predicted that SAG won’t strike, asserting that the DGA, WGA and AFTRA deals have taken away SAG’s clout at the bargaining table.

“SAG is the last labor union to negotiate with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, which reduces its negotiating leverage considerably,” said Marci Ryvicker of Wachovia Capital Markets in a report. “As one source put it, SAG is the caboose on a train that is traveling full speed, yet its demands are the most stringent of all the labor unions.”

Ryvicker noted that SAG suffers from “interunion strife,” making it difficult to achieve the 75% vote threshold required for a strike authorization. She also said that the threat of SAG members filing for “financial core” status — under which a member resigns from formal guild membership but can still work on SAG-covered productions without being disciplined — also makes a strike less likely.

“Our contacts believe that the negotiations between SAG and AMPTP will continue in earnest for the next month but that a contract is likely to be signed by the June 30 deadline,” Ryvicker wrote.

She also estimated that the WGA strike cost the networks a combined $230 million in revenues, with ABC and CBS feeling the greatest impact.

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