SAG exec justifies strike in new letter

Allen alerts wary Guild prior to board meeting

With his future at SAG in question, Screen Actors Guild national exec director Doug Allen has kept pushing hard for a strike authorization from the guild’s 120,000 members.

In his latest message, sent Friday to members, Allen argues that a strike authorization can be justified in a time of economic crisis. Opposing that assertion has been a rallying cry for those against the vote, with 1,900 members — including George Clooney, Russell Crowe and Tom Hanks — seeking a withdrawal of the authorization referendum.

“There is no good time to consider a strike,” Allen said. “Strikes are called only when management’s bargaining positions are intolerable and then only by a vote of the elected actors on the national board, if authorized by a membership referendum. But, tough economic times are when it is most necessary to be unified to resist the studios and networks effort to obliterate contract provisions in our future work.”

The “Know the Facts” missive made no mention of efforts to fire Allen as lead negotiator, a step that could be taken at the emergency national board meeting on Jan. 12-13. The authorization ballots were originally scheduled for mailing last Friday but won’t go out until after the board meeting — and possibly not at all, should the board decide to pull the plug on the strike vote.

For SAG to strike, at least 75% of those voting would have to affirm the authorization. The SAG national board — which saw control shift in September to its moderate wing — would have final say over calling a work stoppage.

Allen’s entering the third year of a three-year contract with a significant portion of the national board in open revolt over how he’s handled contract negotiations. The moderates on the board have announced plans to replace the guild’s negotiating committee in hopes of breaking the contract stalemate with the majors; several have indicated that such a move could include removing Allen as chief negotiator.

SAG and the AMPTP last met on Nov. 22, when efforts at federal mediation collapsed as SAG demanded an increase in DVD residuals — long a nonstarter for the AMPTP. The more aggressive Membership First faction, which lost its three-year hold on the national board in September, remains in control of SAG’s negotiating committee.

Allen’s first “Know the Facts” message to members went out on Dec. 30. In it he asserted that he hoped a strike won’t occur but that if it did, it would not shut down the industry as work would continue on cable, commercials and indie features with SAG waivers. His latest missive reiterated his attack on the congloms’ contract proposal in new media, alleging it creates a business model with no minimums, no residuals and the right to produce non-union at a time when work is migrating to digital platforms.

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers has strongly disputed those assertions, noting their offer includes first-ever residuals for ad-supported streaming of features and TV; increased residual rates for permanent downloads; first-ever residuals for derivative new-media and original programs; SAG jurisdiction over derivative new media; jurisdiction over original new-media productions with budgets over $15,000 per minute or $300,000 total; and jurisdiction over low-budget programs if a “covered actor” is employed.

The AMPTP’s insisted that it won’t sweeten the terms of its offer, made June 30 as SAG’s master contract in primetime and features expired. The companies have blasted SAG repeatedly for demanding a better deal than the DGA, WGA, IATSE and AFTRA — all of which reached agreements in 2008.

Allen asserted that the current economic crisis puts pressure on both sides.

“The studios and networks are much more vulnerable today than they were a year ago facing the WGA,” he noted. “Certainly, actors face an uncertain future as unemployment rises. But the AMPTP’s proposal will make it impossible for actors to earn a living for work in new media.”

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