Membership First issues pessimistic outlook

With SAG’s feature-primetime talks expected to re-launch next week, allies of president Alan Rosenberg have already declared that any deal that emerges won’t be acceptable.

The Membership First faction, which lost its narrow national board majority last fall, said in a message sent Tuesday that the new task force won’t have the “experience, knowledge or determination” to reach a deal that will be ratified by SAG members.

The declaration’s an indication that any ratification vote sent to SAG’s 120,000 members will face strong opposition.

The move comes two days after 59% of the national board re-affirmed its Jan. 26 “written assent” to fire Doug Allen and replace the negotiating committee — which had been dominated by Membership First — with a 10-member task force. SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers haven’t officially announced when they’ll resume talks but next Tuesday’s widely expected to be that date.

Allen was ousted due to frustration among SAG’s moderate leaders over his handling of negotiations — such as alienating AFTRA to the point that the sister union ditched joint negotiations and cut its own deal last May — and for being perceived as being overly beholden to Membership First, even after the board majority shifted. Allen and Rosenberg campaigned actively against the AFTRA ratification, which was approved by a 62% margin.

SAG’s contract expired June 30 with the companies making a final offer. The move to fire Allen gained momentum after SAG failed to close a deal in November at the last round of talks.

“Membership First firmly believes that the June 30th Final Offer from the AMPTP is unacceptable,” the faction said. “We have not lost our resolve. The New SAG Board Majority wants to make a deal, no matter how disastrous it could be for the 120,000 members of this union.”

The Membership First missive also reiterated its list of objections to the final offer, including the lack of product integration language, the removal of force majeure protections, TV residuals for stunt coordinators and gains in DVD residuals.

“No one expects to get everything we need or want,” the message said. “But what SAG members need to demand of this new negotiating ‘task force’ led by John McGuire, is that at a minimum, they must hold firm on total jurisdiction in New Media and residuals for all product made specifically for New Media.”

The faction also declared that it’s “sensitive” to the fears and concerns within the entertainment community regarding the negotiations.

“Our actions are not arbitrary or selfish,” it said. “We are all facing challenging economic times. We are not immune to work slow downs and unemployment. But we are not just fighting for today. We are fighting to protect every actors’ ability to make a middle class living today and in the future.”

Rosenberg declared two weeks ago after Allen was fired for the first time that the AMPTP would make a concession to close the feature-primetime deal and asserted Allen should be given the credit. “This will be given by our employers, not as an act of good will but as a demonstration of the fact that ‘reasonableness’ will be rewarded, while ‘militancy’ will be punished,” he added (Daily Variety, Jan. 28).

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