In a move to jumpstart stalled negotiations, the Screen Actors Guild has asked that a federal mediator join the talks — and has held off on sending out a strike authorization to members.
SAG made the announcement Sunday afternoon at the conclusion of the second day of its national board meeting in Los Angeles. The guild’s resolution to seek a mediator had passed with 97% support.
“We hope mediation will help move this process forward,” said SAG president Alan Rosenberg in a statement. “This action by the board demonstrates our commitment to bargain with the strength of our unified membership behind us. Economic times are tough for all Americans, but we must take a stand for what is fair.”
The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers didn’t have a specific response Sunday to the notion of bringing in a mediator — indicating that the congloms will need to confer about the request before agreeing to participate in a new round of talks. But the org also warned SAG that it’s not going to revise the final offer it made in June.
“The AMPTP has successfully negotiated four major labor pacts with Hollywood guilds this year, and we would like to close a fifth with SAG,” the group said. “That said, there is simply no justification for SAG to expect a deal that is in excess of what the other guilds negotiated in better economic times. No matter what SAG does — whether it be authorizing a strike or following a different approach — it will not change the harsh reality that currently confronts our industry.”
One source close to the studios said he’s expecting the congloms will agree to participate in the mediation process in hopes that a deal can be hammered out. It’s expected that SAG will make an official request this week to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to assign a mediator to the talks and request that the AMPTP participate.
SAG’s negotiating committee had recommended Oct. 1 that the national board seek a strike authorization of members, which would require a 75% approval to be implemented. The 71-member national board also decided over the weekend to go ahead with sending the strike authorization to members, but with the proviso that the negotiating committee would have to determine that mediation hasn’t worked.
“Our No. 1 goal remains securing a good contract without a strike,” said SAG national exec director and chief negotiator Doug Allen. “I am pleased by the board’s strong show of support for the national negotiating committee and look forward to meeting with the federal mediator and the AMPTP committee as soon as possible.”
Going with a mediator rather than sending out a strike authorization represents something of a more cautious step for SAG. The negotiating committee — dominated by the more assertive Membership First faction — had declared on Oct. 1, “A strike authorization vote of the membership is necessary to overcome the employers’ intransigence,” but moderates on the board hadn’t come around to publicly supporting a strike authorization.
The weekend meeting was the first since the Membership First coalition — which came to power with Rosenberg in 2005 — lost its majority on the board in last month’s elections. A coalition of moderates, consisting of the New York and regional reps along with the upstart Unite for Strength faction, has a one-vote majority on the board.
Unite for Strength, with Amy Brenneman racking up the most votes in the election, had accused Membership First during the campaign of bungling the negotiations by alienating AFTRA.
Sunday’s decision to ask for a mediator also represents a policy reversal for Rosenberg, who repudiated a similar resolution in August when SAG’s New York Division board asked for a mediator to be brought into the talks. At the time, Rosenberg accused the New York leaders of playing politics, warned that such a move had not worked during the WGA negotiations and asserted that it could be counter-productive.
SAG has not met formally with the majors since July 16. The AMPTP made a final offer to SAG on June 30, the day the guild’s feature-primetime contract expired, and has warned that it may reduce the value of the deal if the economy worsens.
The congloms have asserted repeatedly they won’t sweeten the deal while SAG’s leaders have insisted that SAG has to achieve better terms in new media than in the final offer, which mirrors the WGA, DGA and AFTRA deals. Allen’s also contended that informal negotiations have been occurring in recent months — a claim that’s been denied explicitly by the congloms.
SAG also said Sunday it would add four more members to the 13-member negotiation committee — two from the Hollywood Division, one from the New York Division and one from the Regional Branch Division.
Despite 87% support from SAG members in a postcard poll for the position of holding out for a better deal, it’s unclear if members would support a strike authorization amid a souring economy and with memories of the WGA’s 100-day strike still fresh. Studios are planning to ramp up feature production early next year in the expectation that there won’t be a SAG strike at that point.