SAG board approves TV/theatrical contract

After narrowly passing, members will vote on ratification

Another hurdle has been cleared -- if only just barely.

SAG's national board of directors voted 53.38%-46.62% on Sunday afternoon to approve its tentative new TV/theatrical contract. The deal will be passed on to the membership at large for a ratification vote beginning in early May. A simple majority of "yes" votes is required for it to pass.

The thin split in the board was not unexpected and represents a party-line vote between the coalition of self-described moderate forces and the only slightly outmanned MembershipFirst faction. The ensuing battle for the hearts and minds (and votes) of the rank-and-file should prove just as contentious.

"We are pleased that Screen Actors Guild members will soon be voting on a deal for television and motion pictures," interim national executive director David White said. "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."

The board met during the weekend in a scheduled bicoastal videoconference, with the long-delayed tentative agreement for a new TV/theatrical contract thrust on the agenda at the last moment. After a two-month stalemate -- and nearly 10 months of working under the terms of an expired contract -- SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers discreetly hammered out a back-room compromise and on Friday announced a tentative deal for a Codified Basic Agreement.

The proposed offer, which covers actors in motion pictures and television, includes a 3% wage increase and a 0.5% pension and health plan contribution increase once ratified. In its second year, the contract triggers a 3.5% wage increase.

The board's motion, passed shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday, read: "It was moved and seconded that the National Board directs the Interim National Executive Director to send the tentative agreement between the Producers represented by the AMPTP and the Screen Actors Guild for successor agreements to the 2005 Producer-Screen Actors Guild Codified Basic Agreement and the 2005 Screen Actors Guild Television Agreement to the membership for ratification, with a recommendation from the Board to vote 'Yes.' "

The last time the board met to weigh the AMPTP's latest offer -- Feb. 21, the day before the Oscars -- it rejected the terms in a near-unanimous voice of disgust. The biggest obstacle for SAG: The companies' demand that the new contract run three years from the day of its ratification, which would have placed the end date in 2012.

SAG, in an effort to link its next negotiating cycle with sister unions the DGA, WGA and AFTRA, desired a two-year, June 30, 2011, end date and balked. Recent behind-the-scenes discussions orchestrated by chief negotiator John McGuire and interim national executive director David White with several industry decision-makers resulted in the companies accepting SAG's preferred date. That in turn should lead to greater collective bargaining power among the talent unions in two years.

New-media parameters -- including jurisdiction, rates and residuals -- have been a controversial issue in all recent contract negotiations and should prove to be Exhibit A in another two years.



SAG president Alan Rosenberg, who has tirelessly pushed for a strike authorization vote and rallied dissent against the parameters of the most recent AMPTP offer, struck a strained note after the board vote Sunday: "I urge members to carefully review both the pros and cons in the referendum materials and exercise their right to vote," Rosenberg said.

In addition to gains in covered background actors and guest star premiums, the new contract offer includes a new-media structure that parallels those achieved by the WGA, DGA and AFTRA:

-- Jurisdiction on all derivative, made-for new media productions; automatic jurisdiction on all high-budget, original, made-for new media productions; plus jurisdiction on low-budget original, new-media productions that employee at least one covered performer.

-- Residuals for exhibition of TV and theatrical motion pictures on consumer pay platforms (electronic sell-through) at a greater percentage than those paid for DVD distribution.

-- Residuals for ad-supported streaming of feature films and television programs.

-- Residuals for derivative new-media programs.

The 110,000 or so paid-up members now have a chance to vote the offer up or down. The ballots will include the terms of the offered contract and a positive recommendation from the board. However, since more than 25% of the board voted no, a guild-vetted "minority report" arguing against a yes vote will be appended to the ballot.

Voters have three weeks to respond, with a simple majority determining the outcome. Since the votes are tallied in a rolling fashion, a final count is delivered to the SAG board the day of the deadline, which should occur before the end of May.

The battle for passage or rejection of the offer by the guild membership will likely prove to be ruthless. Rosenberg and his anti-offer allies have frequently protested the terms of the most recent deal as terribly inadequate and a disaster for most actors if enacted.

His and former chief negotiator Doug Allen's push for a strike authorization vote last year met considerable opposition and ultimately resulted in a changing of the guard, as anti-strike forces on the board ousted Allen, muzzled Rosenberg and replaced the negotiating committee with a new task force.

On a related front, on Saturday morning the joint national board of SAG and AFTRA approved its newest commercials contract offer from the advertising industry and will now distribute ratification ballots to their memberships for a vote.

The TV/theatrical and commercials contracts are the largest contracts for the two unions, totaling billions of dollars in wages, residuals, pension and health care payments.

While the industry has waited, frustratingly, for SAG and the AMPTP to settle their differences, film production suffered a sizable drop. Word that the SAG board has chosen to pass the deal on to the membership for a vote should go a long way toward revving up studio engines for a series of feature takeoffs.
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