Strike threat continues over holiday weekend

SAG’s strike threat has kicked off a heated holiday-season spin battle between the guild and the majors — with each side blaming the other for being greedy during the nation’s financial crisis.

Both sides launched major PR offensives over the Thanksgiving weekend in the battle over the upcoming strike authorization vote, with ballots due to be sent out this month to 120,000 SAG members.

In a letter than went out on Thanksgiving eve, SAG president Alan Rosenberg blasted the corporations for harping on the bad economy.

“Like it’s our fault,” he added. “As middle-income actors, we are the victims of corporate greed. We didn’t cause this turmoil.”

Eight Hollywood CEOs fired back angrily on Sunday in an open letter to the entertainment industry, accusing SAG of being elitist and stressing that the majors have closed six other master contracts with the town’s other major labor unions this year (the DGA, WGA, IATSE, casting directors and two with AFTRA).

The letter is running as an ad in today’s L.A. Times.

“SAG is demanding that the entire industry literally throw out all of its hard work because it believes it deserves more than the 230,000 other working people in the business,” the letter said. “To comply with SAG’s demands would mean SAG merits more than everyone else. Saying yes would jeopardize the trust we have so carefully established with the rest of the industry — at a time when this industry needs stability to ensure that together, we effectively evolve with shifting consumer demand.”

The CEOs who signed the open letter were Fox Group’s Peter Chernin, Paramount’s Brad Grey, Disney’s Robert Iger, Sony’s Michael Lynton, Warner Bros.’ Barry Meyer, CBS’ Leslie Moonves, MGM’s Harry Sloan and NBC Universal’s Jeff Zucker.

SAG hasn’t yet disclosed exactly when it will send out the authorization, which will require a 75% approval from those voting to go on strike. The guild will need at least three weeks to conduct the vote, so it’s still unclear whether SAG could be on strike in time to disrupt the Jan. 11 Golden Globes.

Throughout his letter, Rosenberg portrayed SAG as blameless in the contract stalemate, under which SAG members are now in the sixth month of working under an expired deal. The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers issued their final offer June 30 as the contract ran out; a federal mediator gave up on Nov. 22 after two days of talks between SAG and the AMPTP went nowhere.

“Management continues to apply its one-size-fits-all demands to SAG actors,” Rosenberg said. “And we continue to stress that actors have unique, reasonable needs that are different, not better, but different, than writers, directors and crewmembers. So they are telling us to allow the unions who negotiated before SAG to be our proxies. I wonder, would NBC ever let ABC negotiate its license fees for them? Of course not, but they think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask us to defer to the needs of other union workers and ignore what is critical to actors and their families.”

SAG’s also sent a long Q&A message to members that insists that the authorization won’t necessarily lead to a strike — an assertion widely derided by the majors. The guild spends most of the missive reiterating its contention that the final offer amounts to SAG endorsing nonunion residual-free work in new media.

Final say over calling a strike would rest with the SAG national board, where control shifted in September to a moderate faction and away from the more assertive Membership First group.

The CEOs warned SAG that a strike would be “self-defeating,” with actors losing more in the first several days than they’d ever gain back. They noted in their missive that they’ve kept the offer to SAG — with pay gains estimated at $250 million over three years — on the table despite the “rapid worldwide economic decline,” and they stressed that they’re committed to the notion of pattern bargaining, particularly in how to pay for work and residuals in new media.

“We are standing firm behind our offer because it represents a pattern of hard-fought agreements over the past year, and its construct is vital to the future of our industry,” the CEOs said. “No single guild or union should be allowed to undermine the hard-won consensus over how our industry can experiment and then prosper in the speedily changing new-media marketplace.”

But SAG told its members that similar experiments in homevideo and basic cable have ended badly for actors.

“The reality is that management is opportunistic and they believe they can force these concessions on us because they believe we are weak and divided,” the guild said. “We need your vote to prove them wrong.”

How SAG members will vote is difficult to predict. SAG, which shares 40,000 members with AFTRA, campaigned actively this spring against the AFTRA primetime deal but failed when 62% voted to ratify that pact. In September, 87% of the 10,000 SAG members participating in a postcard poll endorsed the strategy of holding out for a better deal but SAG members then voted in a more moderate board a few weeks later.

The CEO letter appears designed to push the rest of the industry to persuade SAG members to vote no. “We hope that every concerned member of our industry will study carefully the terms of our offer — and then think long and hard about whether, at a time when millions of Americans are facing extreme financial hardship, there is anything about our offer that justifies a debilitating strike,” the moguls said.

A week-old No SAG Strike online petition had gathered more than 15,000 signatures as of Sunday afternoon. And voice actress Keri Tombazian disclosed recently on her Member 2 Member email list that she plans to launch a website urging a no vote.

SAG concluded its missive on a strident note. “Do not let management intimidate you into accepting less than you deserve,” it said. “If we stay united, we will prevail.”

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