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Sides spin consequences of strike

SAG authorization vote is a defining moment

The battle for the hearts and minds of SAG actors has kicked into high gear with both sides warning of apocalyptic consequences from the upcoming strike authorization vote.

Thursday’s brawling saw the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers snipe at SAG by pointing to the economic meltdown while touting the merits of the 5-month-old final offer to the Screen Actors Guild. And it called for Hollywood to study the offer to determine if the deal’s terms justify “a debilitating strike in the middle of a historic national economic crisis.”

Meanwhile, SAG national exec director Doug Allen hammered the majors in a new message on the guild website in which he accused the congloms of trying to eliminate residuals. “Management wants you to give up your right to residuals in new media, which very likely could be the end of residuals,” he added.

SAG can’t go on strike unless 75% of those voting endorse authorization, and with ballots due to be mailed in three weeks, the campaigning’s certain to become more contentious and bitter during the rest of the year.

The two sides even differed on seemingly innocuous details: The AMPTP announced it was releasing its entire contract proposal for the first time — prompting SAG to call it “old news” that’s been widely discussed.

“The AMPTP’s summary is confusing and misleading,” a SAG spokesperson added.

The AMPTP said its offer has more gains for SAG members than any other labor agreement in guild history, calling it a “solid” achievement for SAG negotiators that reflects the “revolutionary” times.

“It establishes an unprecedented number of new-media rights and residuals for actors,” the companies said. “Members would get their first-ever residuals for ad-supported streaming, made-for-new-media programs and a near doubling of the homevideo rate for permanent downloads. In addition, SAG would, for the first time, be granted jurisdiction for programs made for new media, including low-budget original programs that employ a single professional actor.”

But Allen said in the webcast that the congloms are being duplicitous, reiterating that the new-media terms — which match those in the six other union deals signed by the AMPTP this year — aren’t good enough for SAG. Since Web platforms will soon be the dominant form of distribution, he argued, SAG will be stuck with a tiny slice of revenues in an expanding sector, just as it was with DVD and cable residuals.

“Been there, done that,” he said. “Once those dollars are in the producers’ pockets, it will be all but impossible to yank them out.”

The AMPTP declared the new- media framework is “heavily weighted” in favor of SAG members while allowing producers to maintain flexibility to compete so that they are not priced out by terms that are unnecessarily costly and restrictive.

“We urge SAG members to take a realistic look at the terms of the producers’ final offer in light of the embryonic state of the new-media market,” they added. “When they do, we are confident they will conclude that the offer is not only fair but generous and is the best deal achievable — with or without a strike.”

In response, a SAG spokesperson declared the proposal falls short in half a dozen areas:

  •  It eliminates force majeure protections.

  •  There are no residuals for original made-for-new-media programming when reused in new media.

  •  There is no guaranteed union coverage for productions that cost less than $15,000 per minute to make.

  •  It does not adequately address background actor issues.

  •  It rejects SAG’s proposal to pay actor pension and health on top of DVD residuals.

  •  It eliminates scheduled meal breaks through the imposition of “French Hours” on features.

In a separate development, AFTRA’s top exec and its president have advised elected officials and staff they’re barred from disparaging SAG in connection with the upcoming authorization vote. The nondisparagement pact — which required both unions to deposit $2 million to pay fines for violations — was hammered out several months ago in order for SAG and AFTRA to negotiate jointly on the commercials contract after a bitter divorce the result of which was that AFTRA negotiated a primetime deal separately.

“While this restriction may seem unusual, the agreement to restrict disparaging expression is the price that staff and members who hold positions of responsibility in both unions are required to pay in order to make it possible for the two unions to engage in joint bargaining of the commercials contract,” said national exec director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth and president Roberta Reardon.

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