SAG board standing firm on new media

Resolution states issue is of utmost importance

SAG's famously fragmented national board took a unified stance Saturday, passing a resolution that urges its negotiating committee to focus the stalled contract talks with the Hollywood studios on issues involving new media.

Jurisdiction and fair compensation for new media is a "core principle" of the guild, according to the resolution, approved by a 68-0 margin. The nature and timing of the board resolution -- establishing new media as a bargaining priority despite the fact that the talks have broken down -- also sends that signal that it is unlikely that the studios' final offer will be brought before SAG's membership anytime soon.

Resolving is one thing, however, and achieving it at the bargaining table is another; SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers have been locked in a de facto impasse ever since the production companies and studios made their final offer to the union on June 30. The two sides haven't spoken in more than two weeks.

After the meeting Saturday, SAG chief negotiator and national executive director Doug Allen indicated that he was in for the long haul.

"We aren't happy about the delay, but we have to be careful," he said. "The problem is they're asking us to accept a deal that doesn't have the minimum standards necessary to protect actors and has negative consequences that could last for decades and really affect the professional actor in maintaining their lives and families without having a second or third job."

Allen believes that more talks will come, probably on a smaller scale. The WGA held several smaller sessions with key AMPTP reps before ending its 100-day strike.

"What is necessary now is some focused and constructive discussions on how we resolve the few remaining differences," Allen said, adding an optimistic take on the current stalemate. "There are many things we have agreed to, more than those few remaining issues."

The meeting was held at SAG's Los Angeles headquarters, with members of the union's regional and New York boards attending via videoconference in New York. The resolution of solidarity was the first issued by the divided national board since negotiations started in April. Board members from SAG's Hollywood division, led by the MembershipFirst faction, have locked horns with board members in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere over the state of negotiations as well as the failed attempt to convince members of both SAG and AFTRA to vote down AFTRA's primetime/TV contract.

But one board member requesting anonymity said people should not see the passage of the resolution as an indicator that the bad blood between the Hollywood division and the rest of the board has gone.

"It was very, very chilly most of the day," the board member said. "Do not read into this that we left singing 'Kumbaya.' It was a business meeting, and this was a business decision that was made. It is not in any way an endorsement of Doug Allen or (SAG president) Alan Rosenberg. This is simply where we want them to focus."

The board member also said the resolution is a nudge to the negotiating committee and Allen and Rosenberg to drop some sticking points, such as an increase in DVD residuals and a bump in mileage reimbursement.

In a statement after the meeting, the AMPTP said SAG's refusal to accept the final offer "means that actors will continue to work indefinitely under the expired contract -- an old contract that contains none of the $250 million in additional compensation provided by AMPTP's final offer, and an old contract that provides none of the new-media rights and residuals that other Hollywood guild members have now been enjoying for months."

The studios also took issue with the guild's hard-line stance on new-media jurisdiction.

"SAG has permitted non-union Internet production under its contract since 2001," the AMPTP said.

The AMPTP said its offer extends SAG's jurisdiction in original new-media productions, including low-budget programs that employ a single "covered actor" and guarantees residuals when original new-media productions are reused and includes terms to increase pay and residuals if the program is eventually exhibited in traditional media.

"None of these rights and residuals exists under the contract that expired on June 30th," the AMPTP added.

That AMPTP's 42-page offer is a comprehensive proposal that it values at $250 million. It mirrors those already accepted this year by the DGA, WGA and by AFTRA in two contracts, the Network Code and, most recently, the primetime/TV contract.

The offer includes a 10% wage increase over three years. In new media, it offers SAG jurisdiction and residuals for derivative and original made-for new-media programs, doubles the residuals rates for permanent downloads and provides a "broad definition" of "covered performers" in low-budget new-media productions.

But SAG claims the latter will risk union actor jobs. The DGA and WGA contracts agreed to allow producers to make entirely non-union new-media productions for projects with budgets below $15,000. For SAG members, that means union actors will have to compete with non-union principal and background actors for such jobs.

The union also claims that the offer doesn't include residuals for new media streamed again on such ad-supported new-media platforms as YouTube or Yahoo. That would mean that original programs would be available for re-viewing as often as possible without any residuals.

In its final offer, the AMPTP also has set an Aug. 15 deadline for SAG to accept, after which the guild would lose any retroactive payments.

Some industry labor attorneys downplayed the threat, suggesting retroactivity could well wind up in any final agreement.

Allen agreed, saying: "I'm not dismissing the importance of the issue because it's real money. It's not the kind of money that a day past the deadline or a week past the deadline will make anybody panic. I'm not trying to react to that deadline. I'm trying to get a deal done tomorrow or soon. We don't want to delay, but we have to have a deal that doesn't hurt actors."

The AMPTP puts that number at more than $6 million since June 30, according to a counter it put up Sunday on its Web site, which estimates how much actors would have already received if its final offer had been accepted.

Meanwhile, Hollywood is in production limbo, with all but a handful of film projects shut down.

At The Hollywood Reporter's annual Power Lawyers breakfast Friday, MGM chief Harry Sloan said studios will likely start ramping up productions soon rather than later.

"It's a strange situation," Sloan said of the current state of talks. "There's not a lot of pressure on the actors. And TV is still going on. Movies are not getting made, though a lot of us are going to start up."
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