Rosenberg gambit delays guild talks

In the latest stunning twist in the SAG saga, the guild and the congloms have delayed the relaunch of their contract talks because guild prexy Alan Rosenberg is going to court today to demand the reinstatement of ousted national exec director Doug Allen.

Rosenberg and SAG first VP Anne-Marie Johnson submitted a notice of intent to the guild on Monday afternoon. That was followed a few hours later by an announcement from the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers that two days of talks — which had been had been set for today and Wednesday — had been put on hold.

“Screen Actors Guild has advised us that it has a court proceeding that will conflict with our meeting this week, and for that reason, both parties felt it made sense to reschedule the meeting to a later date,” the AMPTP said.

The guild and the companies did not disclose when the talks will take place.

SAG spokeswoman Pamela Greenwalt would disclose only that SAG had received the legal notice and that both sides had agreed to a postponement.

“Screen Actors Guild has no further comment on the notice of intent received today or the postponement of tomorrow’s meeting,” she said.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG’s general counsel, disclosed late Monday night that “certain national board members” would be seeking an expedited injunction from the Los Angeles Superior Court this morning.

Rosenberg and Johnson led a 28-hour filibuster on Jan. 12-13 to prevent the moderate majority of SAG’s national board from firing Allen. The moderates then used a “written assent” — gathering the signatures of 53% of the board — to fire Allen on Jan. 26 for what they termed his mishandling of the contract negotiations with the majors.

Ned Vaughn, alternate board member and spokesman of the moderate Unite for Strength faction, blasted the legal move by Rosenberg and Johnson as being out of step with the guild’s 120,000 members.

“It seems to matter more to Membership First that they retain control of the guild rather than getting this contract negotiated and SAG members back to work,” Vaughn told Daily Variety. “This isn’t what members are looking for from their elected leaders.”

The moderates also used the written assent to replace the negotiating committee with a task force and split Allen’s duties in two, with former guild general counsel David White becoming exec director and senior adviser John McGuire named as chief negotiatior. The resolution also mandated that only White and McGuire and their spokesman could speak on behalf of SAG, prompting Rosenberg to complain that the members no longer had a voice.

SAG’s Membership First faction, which lost control of the national board in September, staged a protest in front of SAG headquarters Monday afternoon with about 60 supporters prior to an evening meeting of SAG’s Hollywood board. Picket signs criticized the ouster of Allen and the new-media terms of the AMPTP’s final offer, along with slamming high-profile stars for coming out against a strike authorization vote.

“Let the members vote, you arrogant New York cowards,” read one picket sign carrried by former national board member Mark Carlton.

Longtime SAG member Terry Becker (“Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”) called the firing of Allen “shameful” and predicted that members would vote down the deal over concerns about its new-media provisions.

The moderates have replaced the negotiating committee with a 10-member task force that has only three slots for Hollywood-based Membership First — Rosenberg, Johnson and national board member Clancy Brown. The other members include New York president Sam Freed; two other Hollywood reps — Vaughn and independent board member Morgan Fairchild, who usually votes with the moderates; New York board members Mike Hodge and Matt Servitto; and regional reps Nancy Duerr and Mike Pniewski.

For a SAG deal to go into effect, the agreement would require approval by the national board — which would trigger mailing ratification ballots to the 110,000 dues-current SAG members. Membership First is virtually certain to oppose any deal.

The negotiations and the firing have already emerged as rallying points for the run-up to September’s SAG election, which will see the presidency and about a third of the national board at stake. The coalition of moderates, who ousted Allen on Jan. 26, hold 53% of the board seats.

Had the talks resumed, it was anticipated that SAG and the AMPTP could make a deal relatively quickly. Insiders say three key issues will need to be resolved for a deal to emerge:

  • The companies’ demand to remove force majeure language from the contract and SAG’s claims that companies failed to pay millions of dollars to actors left without work when TV series went dark during the Writers Guild of America strike.

  • The length of the contract. SAG members have been working under terms of a three-year deal, which expired on June 30 as the AMPTP made its final offer. SAG would want a shorter deal with a June 30, 2011, expiration to coincide with the AFTRA and DGA terminations and stay near the May 1, 2011, expiration of the WGA deal, while the companies will probably favor a full three-year deal with an expiration in 2012 — with as much distance as possible from the WGA’s termination date.

  • A retroactive start date for the contract to allow SAG members to be paid at the higher rates in the new contract for work performed since the previous pact expired June 30. The AMPTP’s asserted that SAG members have lost $50 million out of the $250 million in pay hikes they would have gained had the final offer been accepted seven months ago.

The trio of issues emerged as major discussion points during the last round of negotiations in November, when federal mediation failed to yield an agreement after SAG insisted that it needed to receive an increase in DVD residuals — long a nonstarter for the AMPTP, which has insisted since it made the final offer that it’s not going to revamp the basic terms, particularly since it signed six other Hollywood union agreements last year.

SAG and AFTRA are scheduled to begin joint negotiations with the ad industry Feb. 23. The commercials contract, which has been extended twice, expires March 31.

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