SAG sticks to script

War of words continues between guild, AMPTP

Even without any negotiations scheduled, SAG is keeping up the heat on the majors over its dissatisfaction with the final offer on the feature-primetime deal — and the congloms keep hitting back.

With the contract stalemate a month old and no settlement in sight, SAG president Alan Rosenberg continued to complain Monday in a message to members about the deal’s multiplicity of shortcomings.

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers issued an extensive “setting the record straight” fact sheet disputing SAG’s “unsubstantiated” contentions.

SAG’s move underscores the growing consensus that the guild and the majors are nowhere near closing a deal despite having held more than 40 negotiating sessions since mid-April. With the AMPTP insisting it’s not revising its offer, SAG’s unlikely to change its position, at least until it completes its mid-September board elections — which will serve as a referendum on how SAG’s ruling Membership First party has handled the negotiations.

Rosenberg began the missive by touting the unanimous approval of the guild’s national board Saturday of a resolution asserting the new-media provisions of the offer are unacceptable.

“This does not mean that new media is our only focus,” Rosenberg said. “We know that you are also concerned about such bargaining priorities as product integration, force majeure, background actors’ issues and mileage. We will be communicating with you in more depth on these and other bargaining priorities in the coming days.”

Though Rosenberg’s message left out any mention of the guild’s proposal for a DVD residuals hike, SAG sources and the AMPTP said the issue remains on the table. The DGA, WGA and AFTRA deals — which mirror the AMPTP’s final offer to SAG — did not achieve any progress in that area.

“The producers’ final offer would immediately give performers their first-ever residuals for ad-supported streaming and made-for-new-media programs while doubling the rate that has been paid for permanent downloads,” the AMPTP said Monday. “SAG members deserve to share in the same new-media revenue that the other guild members are already getting — and nothing short of a new contract will allow that to happen.”

SAG hasn’t scheduled a strike authorization and probably won’t due to the difficulty of obtaining 75% approval among those voting. Still, the uncertainty over a SAG strike has brought major studio feature activity to a near-halt for now. TV production remains unaffected as SAG members work under the terms of the deal that expired June 30.

“SAG members continue to work under an expired contract for one simple reason: SAG’s negotiators are holding on several exceedingly expensive and unacceptable proposals that the producers have rejected since these talks began over three months ago,” the AMPTP asserted in its fact sheet. “SAG’s negotiators have sought to focus attention on one narrow dispute in new media, while failing to mention that proposals such as a DVD residual increase remain on the table.”

The AMPTP touted its offer as bringing more than $250 million in salary gains to actors and said it represents more than a 25% gain over the 2005 contract.

With no resolution in sight for the rest of the summer, both sides have settled in for a PR battle — demonstrated when SAG issued a response early Monday evening disputing the AMPTP’s missive and accusing the majors of ignoring changing conditions in new media. “Management has been extremely rigid. They are not bargaining, but rather are simply demanding that we agree to the new media ‘template’ without modification,” SAG said.

SAG also disputed the $250 million figure, asserting it includes some overscale payments that are individually negotiated. “Given actors’ recent experiences with salary compression, we know management’s projected value numbers are highly inflated,” it added.

SAG’s passage of the resolution, which mentioned no other issues, is designed to signal that the guild’s giving top priority to opposing two areas of the deal — allowing nonunion work in low-budget Internet productions and the lack of guaranteed residuals for new-media programming replayed on digital platforms.

The unanimous vote surprised some, given SAG’s well-documented history of internal bickering, but failing to endorse the resolution could have become a liability during the election campaign. The Unite for Strength slate’s campaign centers on its claim that Membership First mishandled the talks to the point that AFTRA decided to negotiate separately from SAG for the first time in 27 years.

SAG’s national board also took a tentative step back toward joint negotiations with AFTRA by passing a resolution Saturday calling for the two unions to negotiate the commercials contract with the ad industry under the two unions’ Phase I agreement — even though AFTRA has asserted repeatedly that the agreement is no longer in effect.

The ad contract expires Oct. 29 and no talks have been set. Saturday’s discussion of the ad pact included the possibility of extending the expiration by six months due to the current stalemate in the feature-primetime contract.

SAG responded by saying the issue was subject to discussion between SAG, AFTRA and the ad industry and AFTRA had no comment. AFTRA president Roberta Reardon said three weeks ago — when AFTRA approved its primetime deal — that the union would explore the possibility of joint negotiations with SAG.

Douglas Wood, lead negotiator for the ad industry, said, “While we hope to hold joint negotiations as we have undertaken for many years, since we have not received any proposal from SAG or AFTRA we cannot comment until it is received and considered by the full Joint Policy Committee.”

SAG and AFTRA agreed with the ad industry in 2006 on a deal to extend the commercials contract by two years in order to conduct a jointly funded study on the changing revenue models for the ad biz.

SAG and AFTRA struck the ad industry for six months in 2000, a move that’s still the subject of bitter debates within the unions. They gained big hikes in cable rates; the strike stopped only after the industry dropped its demand that network TV residuals be replaced by buyouts, and SAG gave up its demand for residuals in cable rather than buyouts.

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