Hurry up, A-listers urge SAG

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All eyes are on SAG.

SAG officials won't say when they might launch negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers to replace a contract that's set to expire June 30. But a burgeoning rapprochement with sister performers union AFTRA makes much more likely the prospect of informal talks with studio chiefs of the sort that led to WGA and DGA contract deals.

"We're always open to having discussions," SAG president Alan Rosenberg said Wednesday.

He declined to elaborate.

News Corp. COO Peter Chernin and Disney chief Robert Iger were the most hands-on in hashing out deal terms with the writers and directors, and many believe those executives or other top media bosses also will engage with the actors unions before their formal negotiations with the AMPTP. An affable and loquacious labor leader for all his reputed militancy, Rosenberg has held previous sit-downs with such executives as CBS Corp. topper Leslie Moonves and Warner Bros. chief Barry Meyer during his more than two years in office.

But until just last weekend, inter-guild squabbling threatened to complicate any dialogue between labor and management.

SAG and AFTRA seemed to be going down diverging paths as the calendar counts down toward a June 30 expiration of their current AMPTP agreements. Rosenberg and SAG national executive director Doug Allen were regularly chastising AFTRA for perceived incursions onto SAG turf, and the duo pushed the SAG board to order a membership referendum on breaking with a decades-long tradition of bargaining jointly with AFTRA.

Then the board reversed course Saturday, halting the referendum and underscoring an interest in negotiating jointly with AFTRA. Key considerations seemed to be opposition to sabre-rattling from SAG New York leaders and the tentative agreement secured by the WGA on early Saturday morning.

Also, top actors like George Clooney and others have started to speak out against any overtly confrontational approach to the upcoming contracts (HR 2/4). So whether for reasons of political practicality or a genuine interest in getting started, it now appears contract talks of some sort might happen sooner rather than later.

Rosenberg is said to be still leaning toward a late spring date for launching formal negotiations. Yet informal talks with one or more studio chiefs could happen at any time now.

To goose the process, Clooney, Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and others have been strategizing over how to pressure Rosenberg into changing his thinking on the timing of formal discussions. For starters, the actors took out ads today in publications including The Hollywood Reporter.

Helpfully, SAG and AFTRA already have held several committee meetings on wage and working conditions issues. So should the A-listers succeed in getting SAG officials to launch negotiations by sometime next month, labor-side negotiators should be primed and ready to go.

On Wednesday, SAG's Allen issued a brief statement in response to press inquiries about the pressure from well-known guild members and the prospect of early negotiations with the AMPTP.

"Our ongoing member outreach has included, and will continue to include, conversations with high-profile television and movie actors, as well as input from our member-driven wages and working conditions committee meetings," the SAG exec said. "We are jointly conducting these wages and working conditions meetings with AFTRA (and) this process will conclude in the March. We will bargain with management at a time that will most benefit our members."
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