SAG group rallies for gov’t probe

100 guild members gather for demonstration

About 100 SAG members and others demonstrated Thursday in support of calling on the federal government to investigate the alleged antitrust practices of entertainment industry congloms — prompting a sharp denial by the companies.

“The self-dealing of these deregulated media conglomerates has undermined the very basic assumptions of how creative talent, other than the few at the top, can bargain for fair compensation and a participation in the rewards of this very lucrative business,” said Scott Wilson in a letter sent Thursday to Attorney General Eric Holder.

The rally, held at mid-day outside the U.S. Dept. of Justice offices in downtown Los Angeles, is the latest development in the campaign against ratifying the feature-primetime contract. Attendees included former SAG president Ed Asner, board member France Nuyen and thesps Tom Bower and Veronica Cartwright.

The guild dissidents — mostly members of the Membership First faction — are not acting as an official SAG group. SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers have remained at odds over the past month over the expiration date of a new deal, though back-channel talks have been going on in search of a compromise.

In response, the AMPTP issued a statement: “There is no merit to these allegations. Amazingly, at a time when so many others are losing their jobs or worried about their futures, this small group continues to protest guaranteed wage increases, higher pension contributions and new forms of earning like the first-ever payments for Internet streaming for SAG members.”

Wilson, who’s organized a series of rallies over the past month, said Thursday that the AMPTP’s final offer to SAG falls short partly because the congloms have been allowed to act in concert and squeeze out smaller producers.

“Independent producers bring their product to market only to find they can’t make a deal because of the self-dealing that shuts them out,” he said in the letter to Holder. “There was once a quote system that allowed negotiation and the opportunity to make a living for professional actors below star level. This is a thing of the past. Now SAG members below star level generally receive the minimum (scale), plus 10% for the agent, or a reduced fixed price across the board. This resembles price fixing more than negotiation.”

SAG’s hardliners have contended that the AMPTP’s final offer should be sent to members and rejected with the goal of pushing the companies to sweeten their deal. For their part, the companies have insisted that the deal — which can be modified or withdrawn on April 20 — is generous at a time of economic recession.

SAG had no comment Thursday.

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