Contract drama enters what may be its final act

SAG’s seemingly endless contract drama has entered what may be its final act — though both sides have warned that a no vote could still lead to a strike.

Each side is accusing the other of extensive distortion and lies in the 24-page ballot that went into the mail Tuesday to about 110,000 SAG members. And the backers have accused the opponents of wanting to take SAG out on strike.

“Saying no will not get you a better deal,” the proponents said. “Saying no means you are looking at a strike. How long can you and your family survive on the picket line as our employers take even more TV and new-media work to AFTRA?”

The opponents, in three pages of rebuttal, accuse the backers of being “sellouts,” allege the deal means an end to residuals and note that 47% of the national board voted against the tentative deal. And they admit that a strike is still a possibility if the pact’s voted down.

“The powerful message of a no vote from our members will place the burden on the employers to make good on their stated intent to find labor peace and to negotiate a fair settlement to avoid a work stoppage,” the opponents said. “If the employers refuse to reopen negotiations and/or impose the terms of this contract upon us, SAG may then ask its members for a strike authorization.”

With moderates in control of the national board, it’s uncertain that the board would be willing to ask members to take such a step — unless the ratification had been voted down.

“This minority is misleading you because they want you to vote no,” the proponents said. “But you live and work in the real world, and this contract brings you real jobs, money and protections — real gains.”

The opponents quoted national interim director David White twice as saying, “This deal sucks” during a national board meeting that took place before the final agreement was hammered out on April 17 — prompting a bitter response by proponents.

“Apparently, the minority thinks the only way to convince you is to mislead you,” the backers said. “They imply SAG’s interim national executive director is critical of this deal. But the deal he criticized is not the deal that you are voting on.”

Backers have positioned the vote as a way to end the malaise caused by uncertainty over the deal as opponents held out for sweeter terms than the other unions.

“The SAG national board of directors is proud to bring you this opportunity to get back to work,” they said. “You’ll find that SAG negotiators have made solid gains in the TV/theatrical contract, including immediate pay increases, better benefits and — for the first time — residuals in new media.”

Opponents blasted the backers on more than a dozen points and stressed that once contractual formulas are established — as they were on homevideo in the 1980s — they are nearly impossible to change.

“The more things change, the more they remain the same,” they said. “Employers still record, distribute and profit from our performances on every platform. The slim board majority uses smoke and mirrors to obscure the fact that employers are using new media as a weapon to pay actors less and weaken the union.”

SAG president Alan Rosenberg has called the deal “terrible on every front” and predicted that member worries over new media will doom the ratification vote. But Adam Arkin and Ned Vaughn, key members of the moderate coalition that gained control last fall, told Daily Variety that they expect the vote to pass.

“The overwhelming reaction that I’ve gotten is positive,” Arkin said. “People are excited that things are moving and that we’re close to a new agreement.”

Vaughn said the key component to the deal is keeping SAG’s expiration in synch with that of the WGA, DGA and AFTRA despite the companies try for a three-year deal. “Getting out of alignment with a 2012 expiration would have permanently damaged our negotiating position,” he added.

The ratification booklet — most of which contains a summary of the two-year deal — first notes the pact includes a 3% hike in minimums in its first year and 3.5% in its second year; a 0.5% hike in pension and health contributions; first-ever residuals for streaming of film and TV; jurisdiction over new-media productions that are derivative of SAG-covered TV and films and limited jurisdiction over nonderivative new-media content.

Ballots are due back by June 9.

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