Guild turns down feature-primetime deal

Leaders of the Screen Actors Guild have rejected the majors’ take-it-or-leave-it offer, two days after talks on a feature-primetime deal fell apart over the issue of the length of the new deal.

SAG announced Saturday night that 73% of its national board had spurned the “last, best, final” offer following a day-long meeting at the guild’s headquarters in Hollywood.

And the board blasted the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers for blindsiding SAG with its demand that the new deal end around March 2012, three years after ratification. SAG wants the new deal to end on June 30, 2011 — three years after expiration of its last deal.

“We entered this round of negotiations sending an unmistakably clear message that we were ready to make a deal,” SAG’s statement said. “In an effort to put the town back to work, our negotiator agreed to modify the Guild’s bargaining position to bring the Guild in line with the deals made by our sister unions. The AMPTPs last-minute, surprise demand for a new term of agreement extending to 2012 is regressive and damaging and clearly signals the employers’ unwillingness to agree to the deal they established with other entertainment unions.” 

Three days of talks between the AMPTP and SAG’s new task force cratered on Thursday night over the expiration issue. For its part, the AMPTP continued to blast SAG for insisting on a better deal than the other unions.

“The Producers’ offer is strong and fair – and has been judged to be strong and fair by all of Hollywood’s other major Guilds and Unions,” the group said. “We have kept our offer on the table – and even enhanced it – despite the historically unprecedented economic crisis that has clobbered our nation and our industry.”

The AMPTP also said that has “always” sought a full three-year deal with SAG. “We simply cannot offer SAG a better deal than the rest of the industry achieved under far better economic conditions than those now confronting our industry,” it added.

Saturday’s rejection leaves SAG and the AMPTP in an uncertain scenario since no further meetings have been scheduled. SAG execs begin negotiations Monday in New York on a new commercials contract with a week blocked out for those talks.

The rejection means that SAG’s members — who have been working under an expired contract for eight months – won’t be voting on the offer. 

And efforts by the Membership First faction to seek a strike authorization vote by the members fell short on Saturday. SAG had no comment about that move, which would have required 75% approval among members casting ballots to be successful.

The current stalemate could result in moguls such as News Corp. president Peter Chernin and Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger becoming involved. Chernin and Iger helped craft the DGA and WGA deals a year ago but stepped away from the SAG talks after an unproductive meeting last April with SAG president Alan Rosenberg and former national exec director Doug Allen.

The companies have insisted on the full three years to provide stability but doing so would push SAG’s expiration far away from the WGA’s in May 2011 and the DGA’s and AFTRA’s in June 2011. Such a move would diminish SAG’s bargaining clout since there it would limit the chances SAG being on strike at the same time as other Hollywood unions.

“What management presented as a compromise is, in fact, an attempt to separate Screen Actors Guild from other industry unions,” SAG said Saturday. “By attempting to extend our contract expiration one year beyond the other entertainment unions, the AMPTP intends to deleverage our bargaining position from this point forward.”  The companies have also told SAG that the new offer could be withdrawn in 60 days. The AMPTP also said Thursday it would be willing to start negotiations on the successor contract no later than November, 2010, which would allow SAG to get back into synch with the other unions on a contract that would expire in June 2014 — as long as SAG and AFTRA ratified the successor agreements by June 30, 2011.

The congloms made the “last, best and final offer” — which included half a dozen “enhancements” such as increasing the required number of SAG background actors — eight months after issuing a “final” offer to SAG on June 30 as the guild’s feature-primetime contract expired.

The failure of Allen to close the deal was the major factor in SAG’s national board ousting him last month and replacing the negotiating committee with the task force. A coalition of moderates had wrested control of the SAG board from Membership First hardliners last fall and grew increasingly frustrated with Allen’s insistence that a strike authorization was necessary.

The moderates chose to install senior adviser John McGuire to replace Allen as chief negotiator – over the strident objections of Rosenberg, who conducted a 28-hour filibuster to prevent Allen’s firing and the abolition of the negotiating committee and then sued SAG and the moderates but failed to obtain a court order to overturn those actions.

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