Guild says strike talk is simply scare tactic

The Screen Actors Guild’s feature-primetime contract expires at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, but SAG has attempted to reassure the town by proclaiming it’s not going on strike any time soon.

“We have taken no steps to initiate a strike authorization vote by the members of Screen Actors Guild,” Alan Rosenberg said in a statement Sunday. “Any talk about a strike or a management lockout at this point is simply a distraction. The Screen Actors Guild national negotiating committee is coming to the bargaining table every day in good faith to negotiate a fair contract for actors.”

SAG also told members some reports have implied incorrectly that a strike’s looming this week, adding, “Don’t let these scare tactics fool you.”

For their part, the majors weren’t impressed and accused SAG of stalling so their leaders can fight the ratification of AFTRA’s primetime deal — while production grinds to a halt. AFTRA is expected to announce those results July 8.

SAG’s vehement opposition is widely perceived as a way for SAG to gauge whether guild members have the stomach for a strike — without the potential embarrassment of losing an actual strike authorization vote, which would require 75% approval.

“The industry is shutting down because SAG’s Hollywood leadership insisted on 11th-hour negotiations and dragging these talks into July so they can continue attacking AFTRA,” the AMPTP said. “The AMPTP has made four major guild agreements so far this year, and there is no reason we can’t make a fifth and final one with SAG and get the town back to working at full speed.”

The SAG announcement came with the guild in the 41st day of contract talks with the majors. The two sides were meeting in rare weekend sessions — but no serious moves expected were by either side until after AFTRA unveils the results of its vote.

Talks are expected to resume today.

AFTRA’s touting the gains in its deal on minimums, pension and health and new media — with the latter matching terms in the WGA and DGA pacts — along with preservation of clip consent. SAG has insisted that those terms fall well short of acceptable and accused the AMPTP of stalling last week, asserting that the congloms’ offer had not yet matched the AFTRA deal.

Should the deal be voted down, AFTRA leaders would be authorized to strike. SAG has insisted such a result would merely mean AFTRA and SAG would go back to the table, despite AFTRA’s denials that it would jointly negotiate with SAG.

“Don’t be fooled,” AFTRA said in an ad in today’s Daily Variety. “The people who claim you can win a better deal without a real commitment to strike are not telling you the truth.”

If the AFTRA contract is ratified by a wide margin, it will weaken SAG’s efforts at securing better terms after going all out to persuade the 44,000 actors who belong to both unions to vote against the AFTRA deal.

In a display ad placed in today’s Daily Variety, the AMPTP blasted the prospect of a SAG strike as “harmful and unnecessary.” It also cited stats from a recent Milken Institute report as to the impact of the WGA strike, including a projected 37,700 jobs lost, $2.3 billion in lost wages, a $3 billion decline in personal income and retail sales losses of $830 million.

“Let’s get the fifth done,” the AMPTP said. “Let’s keep working.”

Asked to respond, Rosenberg said, “Our national negotiating committee is working hard every day to bargain a fair contract for SAG members as soon as possible.”

The SAG contract expiration eliminates the no-strike, no-lockout provisions of the pact along with the grievance-arbitration provisions, but its other terms and conditions will continue to apply.

Production won’t stop completely, with some TV shooting expected to continue and SAG having signed more than 355 indie waiver deals under which a production company agrees to adhere to whatever terms SAG negotiates in its new deal with the AMPTP. Only non-AMPTP companies are allowed to sign such deals.

The SAG-AFTRA brawl stems from years of jurisdictional disputes that exploded in March when AFTRA refused to negotiate jointly with SAG. That’s resulted in actors picking sides, with James Cromwell, Sally Field, Tom Hanks and Susan Sarandon backing the AFTRA deal while Viggo Mortensen, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen and Ben Stiller endorse SAG’s stance.

In addition, the Intl. Cinematographers Guild has blasted SAG’s leadership — and SAG has hit back hard. ICG president Stephen Poster, in a letter to his members sent Friday, said SAG should have made a deal by now and criticized the guild for attacking AFTRA’s primetime pact.

“SAG has not brought anything new or promising to the bargaining table, and a factional rift within SAG’s membership is threatening to not only damage the union itself but the industry as a whole,” he said. Poster denounced the guild leadership as “dysfunctional” in describing what he termed “the sad state” of SAG’s negotiations.

Rosenberg said in response that Poster’s comments were “shocking and anti-union” and accused Poster of making “threats” against SAG members. And he said he was not surprised by the attack on SAG since the ICG is part of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical & Stage Employees — which has a year-old strategic alliance with AFTRA.

“We are in critical negotiations for a contract for SAG actors,” Rosenberg said. “It would be irresponsible not to educate our members about the impact of AFTRA’s tentative deal on our talks.”

Poster pointed out that a bargaining pattern has already been established by the DGA, WGA and AFTRA in contract agreements reached earlier this year with the AMPTP.

“This movie has to end soon,” Poster added. “The paltry gains for which SAG continues to fight do not justify the pain a strike or continued slowdown will bring to those who work in this industry, who fight to pay their mortgages, feed their families and keep their health coverage intact.”

The ICG has about 6,000 members, covering camera crews and publicists. It operates as IATSE Local 600 and is one of IATSE’s largest and most influential locals.

Rosenberg concluded his letter by accusing Poster of making threats against SAG members.

“I assure you, despite your threats against our 120,000 proud members, Screen Actors Guild will always stand solidly behind Local 600 and other IATSE locals that need our solidarity,” he said. “If you are interested in knowing the facts of our negotiation, please feel free to contact me directly.”

Within SAG, the internal bickering between Hollywood and New York continued over the weekend as New York directors — who have gone on record as supporting the AFTRA deal — said they were “outraged” over the refusal of the guild to send a statement from New York president Sam Freed that expressed opposition to automated anti-AFTRA phone calls to members from Ed Asner and Sandra Oh.

“It is important that you know that the New York board and I did not have any knowledge that these messages were being sent,” Freed said in the message. “And we had nothing to do with the content of the messages. Fact is that the New York board is on the record objecting to this official guild interference in the internal processes of another union.”

SAG responded Sunday by saying that New York reps had been notified prior to the calls. It also indicated that Freed’s message wasn’t sent out because Rosenberg and national exec director Doug Allen have been designated since March as the only official spokesmen for SAG regarding negotiations.

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