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SAG, majors inch toward compromise

Leaders explore ways to end stalemate

Leaders of the Screen Actors Guild have signaled they’re exploring ways to end the stalemate with the congloms over the guild’s feature-primetime deal.

With commercials contract talks recessed this week, SAG and the companies are expected to continue conducting back-channel efforts to find a compromise. Negotiations between SAG and the AMPTP cratered on Feb. 19 over the issue of when SAG’s contract would expire, with the guild pushing for a two-year deal and the congloms insisting on a three-year term.

In a recent message to supporters, the Unite for Strength faction noted that SAG negotiators must now balance the guild’s two biggest contract negotiations as the commercials contract launched Feb. 23, less than 36 hours after SAG’s national board rejected the AMPTP’s “last, best, final” offer. UFS, part of the moderate coalition that gained control of the board last fall, said the commercials talks had been scheduled a year ago on the assumption that the feature-primetime contract would have long since been concluded.

“Despite this challenge, our negotiators continue to explore options to move the TV/theatrical contract toward resolution,” the group said.

The hardline Membership First faction has asserted that the “last, best, final” offer should be sent out in its current form and then voted down by the members to force the congloms to improve the offer. First VP Anne-Marie Johnson urged that action in a message to members last week along with repeating a call for sending out a strike authorization.

But Unite for Strength said SAG members have never been sent a contract the board didn’t recommend ratifying, much less one it’s rejected.

“This is no time to stray from that precedent,” the group said. “As for a strike authorization ballot, the national board voted not to send one at its last meeting. While Ms. Johnson’s call for a strike vote may now be emphatic, she and her allies were themselves in a position to send out such a referendum for many months — preceding the start of talks, during them, and after negotiations were at a standstill — but they repeatedly chose not to.”

SAG and AFTRA are negotiating side by side on the commercials contract talks, which are being held under a news blackout. People familiar with the talks have indicated that the negotiations, after two weeks, haven’t yet reached the horse-trading stage of moving toward a deal. The commercials contract expires March 31, but SAG and AFTRA have not yet moved toward seeking a strike authorization from the members.

Membership First and other opponents of the feature-primetime deal plan to hold a demonstration on Wednesday outside Warner Bros. to focus on the pact’s new-media terms — which are similar to those in deals signed by the DGA, WGA and AFTRA.

The AMPTP’s asserted repeatedly that the new-media provisions are generous, given the souring economy, while opponents allege that the migration of programming to digital platforms will lead to far lower residual pay for actors.

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