Tuesday, April 21, 2009

SAG National Board Approves Tentative Deal


The actors' feature-primetime contract passed a major hurdle Sunday as it was OK'd by a sharply split SAG national board, 53.4% to 46.6%.

It won't be easy given the vehement opposition to the tentative two-year agreement from SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg and his allies. The deal is expected to secure approval by a majority of SAG voters, but a pitched PR battle is sure to ensue in the next few weeks as SAG hardliners try to rally as many no votes as possible to send a message to the guild's new executive regime -- and to set the tone for SAG's fall election of officers and board members.

"We are pleased that Screen Actors Guild members will soon be voting on a deal for television and motion pictures," said interim national exec director David White. "We're eager to get our members back to work and to focus now on the challenges ahead, particularly on initiating a comprehensive effort to thoughtfully plan for the future."

Rosenberg told Daily Variety that he'll strongly oppose ratification, particularly because it doesn't guarantee SAG jurisdiction and residuals on some new-media projects. "This contract is anathema to everything we stand for," he added.

Rosenberg's allies began blasting the deal at the conclusion of Sunday's daylong meeting. "Groundbreaking it isn't unless you're digging a grave," said board member Kent McCord.
Ned Vaughn, leader of the Unite for Strength faction, said the pact's necessary amid the slowdown for actors. "Our members need raises, and they need to get back to work," he added.
Ballots will be mailed out in early May with a required return at the end of the month. A minority report will be sent out along with the ballots.

The board's approval came two days after SAG execs and the congloms hammered out final details of the pact. SAG toppers announced the tentative deal Friday afternoon, 10 months after the previous pact expired. A key to Friday's tentative deal was the congloms' agreement to SAG's demand for an expiration date in June 2011. That date will keep SAG in sync with the WGA, DGA and AFTRA expirations, which allows solidarity in future negotiations. But SAG won't get any retroactive pay gains -- worth $67 million, according to the companies -- under the new deal.

The proposed SAG deal contains the same general new-media terms as the WGA, DGA and AFTRA pacts, meaning that all the drama from Rosenberg and his team for the past 10 months ends with a whimper, not with a bang.

Both sides agree that the contract battle has left SAG in a weaker position. Rosenberg has complained repeatedly that the lack of unity among board members wound up de-leveraging the guild, while the moderates contend that Doug Allen -- handpicked in 2006 by Rosenberg to be national exec director -- bungled the negotiations.

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. And it spells out the pay structure for shows streamed on and made for the Internet. That's the same deal the companies offered on June 30 but was spurned by the hardliners who advocated holding out for sweeter terms.

Vaughn said the 2011 contract termination date -- rather than the 2012 date sought by the congloms -- was key in getting the new deal approved by the moderates on the board. "This deal will put SAG in position to bargain for better new-media terms in the 2011 round of negotiations, since we'll be in synch with the other unions," he added.

Should the deal be approved by members, it will extinguish what's been a nagging uncertainty for the business for the past year. Production on film and TV was thrown off-kilter by the writers work stoppage, then by studios' and nets' fears that a SAG strike might emerge. During the period of uncertainty in the fall, control of SAG's national board shifted to a moderate coalition, while the economic crisis helped create a big slowdown in local feature production. (First-quarter off-lot activity in Hollywood was at an all-time low.)

In the next few weeks, warring SAG factions -- the moderate Unite for Strength faction, which sprang up last year to combat Rosenberg and his Membership First movement -- will no doubt use the tentative agreement as a key point. SAG's ruling moderate coalition, which has a narrow majority on the 71-member board -- will almost certainly blast the MF group by accusing them of stalling tactics and for alienating AFTRA to the point that the sister union broke off from SAG and signed its own primetime deal last summer. Rosenberg vociferously opposed the AFTRA deal, which received a 62% endorsement.

Rosenberg said Sunday that the board has abandoned its earlier vote to oppose allowing non-union work for actors. And he pointed to a postcard poll in September in which 87% of members advocated holding out for a better deal.

"I'm glad that the members will finally get to vote on this, as I've advocated," he added.
Vaughn noted that the lack of a SAG deal led to AFTRA signing virtually all of the new pilots. "Not having a deal cost SAG members dearly," he added.

Membership First has also bitterly opposed the ouster of Allen in January, after he angered the moderates by continuing to seek a strike authorization amid accusations of incompetence at the bargaining table. Allen was replaced by White as interim national exec director and John McGuire as chief negotiator.

"These so-called moderates are giving away our future," said SAG member Scott Wilson, who's led a series of rallies against the deal in recent months. "This deal will destroy our pension and health plans, which will be the death knell for working actors making a living."

The ratification campaign will also mark a kickoff for the board election in September.
The final deal comes after two months of back-channel talks between SAG toppers and moguls such as Disney's Robert Iger and Warner Bros. Barry Meyer, with SAG's McGuire and AMPTP exec VP Carol Lombardini executing the specifics of the new pact.

The AMPTP said Sunday that the SAG pact is the eighth major labor agreement reached by AMPTP since the start of 2008. "Because both sides were willing to compromise we now have an agreement that will provide SAG members with meaningful wage boosts, pension increases, first-class health benefits, and a complete set of new media rights and residuals," the org added. "With this agreement in place, our entire industry can work together to overcome the enormous economic challenges before us."

In a separate action, leaders of SAG and AFTRA unanimously endorsed a three-year commercials pact on Saturday, triggering a ratification vote among the 150,000 members of both unions.

The commercials deal marked a return to joint negotiations by SAG and AFTRA, the latter of which split off angrily a year ago and negotiated a separate primetime deal. The unions and the ad industry reached the tentative agreement -- which represents a $36 million pay hike over three years, including $21 million more in pension and health contributions -- on April 1.

Ballots on the blurb pact will be mailed this week with a return date in mid-May. Easy passage is expected.

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