News Corp. chief sends warning to guild

With SAG leaders about to decide whether to ask members for a strike authorization, News Corp. chief operating officer Peter Chernin has warned thesps that striking is a lousy idea amid a reeling economy.

“I think it’s genuinely foolhardy to think this is an appropriate time to go out on strike,” said Chernin on Thursday at a TV Week media conference in New York. “It would be devastating for the entire creative community for the actors to go out on strike.”

Chernin also reiterated the congloms’ stance that they won’t sweeten their final offer to the Screen Actors Guild, which has been insisting that it deserves better terms than those in the WGA, DGA and AFTRA pacts. The two sides haven’t met since July 16, and SAG members are working under terms of a feature-primetime deal that expired June 30.

“We have now made successful deals with virtually the entire Hollywood creative community,” he added. “SAG has come in and basically said: ‘The deal you made with everyone else is not good enough for us.’ We’ve made our final offer. We don’t want to send a false message that there is room for negotiation. We’re done.”

SAG had no immediate response.

Chernin, along with Disney topper Robert Iger, played a key role in crafting the deals with the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America. He said the key to resolving the WGA pact was creating the precedent for creatives to be paid for digital content in exchange for allowing the companies to experiment with digital delivery without a significant amount of undue restriction.

SAG’s national board will meet Saturday to determine whether the guild will send out a strike authorization — as recommended two weeks ago by SAG’s negotiating committee. If approved, that would trigger the mailing of authorization ballots to SAG’s 120,000 members and the ballots’ return over the following 30-45 days.

Saturday’s meeting is the first since last month’s election, which saw the more aggressive Hollywood-based Membership First faction lose control of the board for the first time since 2005 to a coalition of the startup Unite for Strength faction plus the New York and regional reps.

The moderates — who have been critical of aspects of the leadership’s handling of the contract negotiations — have not yet disclosed their strategy. It’s unclear whether SAG members would support a strike authorization amid the current economic crisis, particularly since such a vote would require 75% approval among those casting ballots.

In a message last week to members, SAG asserted that approval of a strike authorization does not trigger a strike automatically. But the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers disagreed.

“SAG negotiators seem determined to force another unnecessary, harmful strike,” the AMPTP said in response. “Why else would SAG negotiators be unreasonably insisting, at a time of national economic collapse, on a better deal than the one achieved by the other Hollywood guilds much earlier this year, during much better economic times?”

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