SAG, AMPTP reach tentative deal

Guild's board of directors will meet this weekend

SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers reached a tentative agreement on a new TV/theatrical contract Friday afternoon.

The main obstacle for SAG -- the AMPTP's proposed expiration date of three years after ratification -- has reportedly been resolved so that the new agreement, if ratified, will expire June 30, 2011. This will bring the end of the SAG agreement into synch with those of the latest DGA, WGA and AFTRA deals, timing that will allow the unions greater collective leverage in the next round of negotiations.

Additionally, SAG claims resulting from force majeure actions taken by the studios and networks during the 100-day writers strike last year -- a major sticking point on the companies' side of the SAG TV-theatrical debate -- have also found a compromise resolution. The conflict had previously entered arbitration. Details are not yet available.

The AMPTP and SAG had been at an official standoff since Feb. 21, when the SAG national board rejected the AMPTP's last, best, final offer for a new Codified Basic Agreement. Back-channel discussions that SAG chief negotiator John McGuire and interim national executive director David White have held with studio and network executives the past few weeks have evidently led to a compromise that the SAG negotiating task force can now recommend to its national board.

The old contract has been expired since June 30. AMPTP executive vp Carol Lombardini had been handling negotiations as acting president since Nick Counter retired at the end of March.

The SAG national board of directors has a meeting scheduled this weekend, where it will discuss the proposed deal and decide whether to send it to the membership at large for a ratification vote. The new TV-theatrical offer is expected to make the agenda on Sunday.

That debate should prove to be contentious, as members of SAG's MembershipFirst faction have promised to fight any deal reached by the more moderate negotiating task force represented by McGuire as deficient in several areas. Though the board is still expected to refer the offer to the membership for a vote, dissenters will likely have enough no votes to meet the criteria to send their dissenting opinion along with ballots and the majority recommendation.

The battle for the hearts and minds of the 110,000 or so paid-up SAG members eligible to vote on the deal is then likely to be pitched and loud. All told, once the board approves the balloting, the final result will not materialize for another four to five weeks.

Even though the outcome is still uncertain, many in the industry hope that film production, which has largely been stalled during the impasse, will finally re-accelerate. Word of the tentative labor agreement quickly generated enthusiasm by midafternoon at the Association of Film Commissioners International locations trade show in Santa Monica.

"Within days I think you'll see decisions" on feature productions, said Peter Finestone, a film commissioner from Toronto. "We've all been waiting for this to be resolved. It's been slow. Now they'll be on the move."

"It's big buzz here," said another attendee.

Meanwhile, the SAG/AFTRA joint national board meets Saturday morning from 8:30 a.m.-noon to vote on a tentative new commercials contract. The joint board is expected to approve the mailing of ballots to their rank-and-file memberships for ratification along with a hearty recommendation.

The performers unions reached the tentative agreement with the JPC, the organization that bargains for the advertising industry, on April 1.

Borys Kit contributed to this report.
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