Outlook dim for SAG deal

Guild, majors still far apart on key points

In a development that will amp up strike fears, hopes for a SAG deal with the majors this week have nearly vanished.

With a dozen days of negotiations in the book, progress remains negligible, although both sides have adhered to an unofficial news blackout with no public disclosure on the substance of talks on SAG’s feature-primetime deal.

But privately, the congloms have been feeling increasingly frustrated over SAG’s refusal to budge significantly from its initial proposals — particularly after the companies asked for an extra week to close the “significant gaps” in positions before turning to AFTRA’s primetime deal on Monday for the next two weeks.

SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers will resume talks at 10 a.m. today at the AMPTP’s headquarters in Encino. The current round of negotiations is set to conclude Friday.

At this point, there are no plans to bring in Disney CEO Robert Iger and News Corp. president Peter Chernin to reprise their roles in crafting the basic outlines of the DGA and WGA deals. Iger and Chernin last met with SAG national exec director Doug Allen and president Alan Rosenberg on April 8.

SAG’s contract expires June 30. It hasn’t yet asked its 120,000 members for a strike authorization.

The only optimism coming from the talks stems from the meetings having been cordial rather than contentious — a vivid contrast with the WGA negotiations before and during the writers strike.

But it’s now viewed as a longshot that the two sides can start making the major moves over next three days that would start the give-and-take of hard bargaining and break the current stalemate. Negotiators have spent the lion’s share of sessions going over the terms in new media — where SAG’s insisting it must receive a better deal than the DGA and WGA, particularly in reducing the 17-day promotional window (24 days on new series) for networks to stream ad-supported series.

SAG’s also sticking to its guns on a boost in DVD residuals, despite warnings by the AMPTP that it won’t give in — even if SAG goes on strike.

Should SAG decide to hold off on making a deal this week, that tactic would reflect the belief that the guild will achieve sweeter terms when it’s much closer to the June 30 expiration — and a possible strike. Going that route runs the risk of AFTRA signing a deal first and using that pact to sign new shows shot on digital, since both unions cover that area of jurisdiction.

AFTRA’s viewed as much more likely than SAG to sign a deal, since its leaders are less assertive than SAG’s. The two unions share 44,000 members.

AFTRA incorporated some of the WGA and DGA new-media terms in its network code deal, signed in early March. AFTRA’s negotiating apart from SAG for the first time in 27 years on primetime shows, following an ugly breakup over jurisdictional and strategic disputes.

SAG sent out a fourth negotiations briefing to members about the general ideas behind its proposals for improved rates for background actors, stand-ins, higher pension and health contributions, language spelling out fair market value in determining residual rates and improved mileage reimbursement to the IRS rate of 50¢ a mile. It noted background actors need 218 jobs to qualify for the basic SAG health-care plan while middle-income actors have to work 38 days at scale to qualify.

“You’d have to be living under a rock not to know that gas costs more than it did a week ago, let alone three years ago when this contract was negotiated,” SAG said. “Actors drive to and from sets and get only 30¢ a mile.”

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