The Screen Actors Guild’s overwhelming 78% contract approval marks a clear move toward moderation within the long-feuding org — setting the stage for this fall’s election and the contract negotiations in 2011.
But, as a reminder that it won’t be all harmony, SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg announced Tuesday, before the results were unveiled, that he’s seeking a third term.
The vote, announced Tuesday evening, brought down the curtain on a yearlong drama that’s left the guild mired in acrimony and the town dogged by uncertainty.
“This decisive vote gets our members back to work with immediate pay raises and puts SAG in a strong position for the future,” said David White, interim national exec director.
Despite allowing the SAG master contract to expire a year ago, guild leaders wound up with essentially the same deal signed last year by the DGA, WGA and AFTRA.
After the moderates fired Doug Allen for allegedly botching the negotiations, the only concession that White and chief negotiator John McGuire got from the congloms was a two-year term for the pact — placing SAG’s June 30, 2011, termination in synch with other unions.
Rosenberg’s strategy had been based on the notion of SAG striking. The vote represented a stinging rebuke to him and his allies, who have insisted on holding out for a better deal — and going on strike if the congloms failed to comply.
Now, with the moderates gaining force, there is an increasing likelihood that negotiations in 2011 could follow the usual scenario in which the DGA strikes a deal first, and everyone follows — unlike this round, when SAG’s OK of its deal lagged the other unions by a year.
The WGA’s contract expires on May 1, 2011, two months before SAG’s, the DGA’s and AFTRA’s. But it’s uncertain which union will go first and if the unions can manage a joint approach to negotiations.
Rosenberg and White both said they’d start to work toward the next round of negotiations.
Turnout for the ratification, unveiled Tuesday, was a higher-than-normal 35% among the 110,000 eligible members.
SAG’s deal includes a 3.5% annual hike in minimums — a 3% salary hike in the first year plus a 0.5% gain in pension and health contributions in the first year and a 3.5% salary increase in the second; it also spells out the pay structure for shows streamed on and made for the Internet. That’s essentially the same deal the companies offered a year ago but that was spurned by hardliners who advocated holding out for richer terms for new-media compensation and guaranteed jurisidiction on new-media projects.
Proponents of the deal noted throughout the campaign the collateral damage created by SAG — that AFTRA had signed the lion’s share on TV pilots thanks to its own primetime deal, and the studios had used the uncertainty, along with the hard economic times, as one of the reasons for cutting back film production.
Though SAG has a long history of infighting, the past two years have set it at a new level, including a 28-hour filibuster to prevent Allen’s firing and an unsuccessful lawsuit by Rosenberg to overturn that move.
“I think this is a relief for everyone that this has come to an end,” White told Daily Variety.
The moderates on the national board managed to approve the tentative deal April 19 with 53% support over the Membership First faction, which lost its board majority last fall. The moderates gained ground in that election thanks to a slate of Unite for Strength candidates led by Amy Brenneman and Adam Arkin.
Arkin said the Unite for Strength faction hasn’t yet decided who will run against Rosenberg but would make that decision soon. Candidates can take out petitions Monday, and results will be announced Sept. 24.
“I’m a little surprised that the vote was this overwhelming,” Arkin told Daily Variety. “I think people were tired of the unresolved issues and the fact that so much of the new TV work was going to AFTRA.”
Production on film and TV has been thrown off-kilter for the past two years — first by the WGA strike and then by studios’ and nets’ fears that SAG might walk out.
Rosenberg admitted surprise at the level of support for the feature-primetime deal. “It may be due to fatigue, fear and the economy,” he said. “This contract will have a devastating impact.”
He was still insisting Tuesday before the vote that if the deal was rejected and the congloms didn’t sweeten the terms, SAG members would need to vote up a strike authorization.
SAG’s “Yes for Your Future” campaign featured more than a dozen members-only town hall meetings and emphasized the gains in minimums and new-media jurisdiction and argued that the lack of a deal has deprived working actors of an estimated $85 million in pay raises for the past year. Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Sally Field and former president Melissa Gilbert endorsed the deal along with more than 1,200 other members.
The “No for Your Future” campaign contended that the explosive growth of new-media precludes accepting the same template as the WGA, DGA and AFTRA. Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Melissa Leo and former SAG president Ed Asner were among the high-profile thesps who opposed the deal.
Arkin also said that he views Rosenberg as a friend and deeply committed unionist.
“I wish him nothing but the best, and I hope that we’re moving toward a place that we can all feel that way about each other,” he added.
Rosenberg succeeded Gilbert in 2005 as SAG prexy, defeating Morgan Fairchild by 5%. He won re-election in 2007 over Seymour Cassel by a 2% margin.