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SAG hardliners seek studio probe

Dissidents want antitrust practices investigated

SAG hardliners are calling on the federal government to investigate the alleged antitrust practices of entertainment industry congloms.

The move, announced Tuesday, is the latest development in the campaign against ratifying the feature-primetime contract. The guild dissidents — mostly members of the Membership First faction — are not acting as an official SAG group and have scheduled a Thursday morning rally in downtown Los Angeles outside the U.S. Dept. of Justice offices.

Spokesmen for the Screen Actors Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers had no comment.

“We are drawing attention to the fact that the handful of vertically integrated corporations who finance, distribute and exhibit motion picture and video productions have gained unchecked control over the entertainment industry,” said SAG member Scott Wilson.

Wilson said the congloms are denying SAG members who are below star level a fair participation in the rewards of the business.

“In our collective bargaining process, these giant corporations have demanded rollbacks that ruthlessly cut down the minimum safety net on which our membership depends — residuals, pensions, health care,” he added.

SAG’s remained in a stalemate for more than a month on its feature-primetime contract over the issue of when the guild’s contract would expire, with SAG pushing for a two-year deal and the congloms insisting on a three-year term. SAG’s interim national exec director David White — installed by the moderate coalition that ousted Membership First last fall — said the guild’s been holding back-channel meetings to hammer out a compromise.

Membership First has 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 AMPTP’s insisted that the deal — valued at $250 million in pay hikes over three years — doesn’t contain rollbacks and is generous amid the declining economy.

But Wilson said conflicts of interest among the companies are “rampant” and he plans to send letters asking for an investigation to Attorney General Eric Holder; U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.); and Reps. Henry Waxman, head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and John Conyers, head of the House Judiciary Committee.

“We call on the Dept. of Justice to investigate the antitrust implications of these corporations that have abused their market power to disadvantage the entire creative community,” Wilson said.

The U.S. Supreme Court found in 1996 in favor of NFL owners, ruling in a case brought by NFL players, that the owners had a limited nonstatutory exemption from antitrust sanctions.

“It would be difficult, if not impossible, to require groups of employers and employees to bargain together, but at the same time to forbid them to make among themselves or with each other any of the competition-restricting agreements potentially necessary to make the process work,” said Justice Stephen G. Breyer in the majority opinion.

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