Studios to SAG: You're up

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One day after AFTRA ratified its pact and left SAG as the only Hollywood guild without a new labor contract, the studios ratcheted up the pressure.

The AMPTP sent letters to city, county and state elected officials, scolding SAG for delaying AFTRA's deal and warning of the economic consequences if the guild fails to make an agreement.

Additionally, the studios called attention to one of the proposals in its 43-page "final offer," which would provide wage increases retroactively only if SAG accepts the deal before Aug. 15. If the deadline passes before the union ratifies a contract, the studios said, the actors could lose more than $200,000 a day in increases dating to July 1, the day the new contract would take effect.

"Under the final offer, if the new agreement is not ratified by Aug. 15, all changes in terms and conditions would become effective in the first payroll period after ratification," the AMPTP said. "The producers have included this traditional incentive in the final offer in order to get everyone back to work and end the de facto strike."

With the clock ticking, SAG essentially either has to accept the AMPTP's final offer and send it to its membership for ratification by Aug. 1 or decide to throw caution to the wind and continue to stand firm on its demands.

In a response to the retroactive aspect, SAG said "As management knows, and as we have often stated, the Screen Actors Guild national negotiating committee's goal is to bargain a fair contract for our members."

The AMPTP's roughly 120 letters went to members of the California Legislature, the Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

"SAG's anti-AFTRA campaign has served to stall SAG's negotiations with us, and the result is a de facto work stoppage throughout much of the entertainment industry," AMPTP chief negotiator Nick Counter wrote. "Each day that production grinds to a halt causes more and more dislocation to the economy of Los Angeles in particular and California in general."

In response to the letter, SAG's national executive director Pamm Fair said, "We don't think any legislators will be surprised that multibillion-dollar global companies engaged in negotiations with a union have resorted to rhetoric and mischaracterizations regarding union workers.

"While we have not yet seen evidence of a slowdown in production, any decrease in film and television production would be a result of the studios and networks that control the industry, not the actors they hire. Screen Actors Guild remains committed to bargaining a fair contract and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week," she added. "If anyone is stalling, it's the AMPTP by suggesting that bargaining is over, when we clearly haven't achieved an agreement that is fair for actors and the industry."

SAG may be willing to negotiate 24/7, but the studios have said the bargaining is over and that today's afternoon session at the AMPTP headquarters is strictly an opportunity for SAG to ask questions about the offer, which the studios claim provides $250 million in additional compensation over three years.

Faced with the studios' firm stance, SAG insiders have focused on semantics, maintaining that while the AMPTP presented a final offer, it's not a "last offer" or "best offer" or "last, best and final offer," all of which the actors union's leaders believe are possible.

The studios have virtually shuttered movie and TV production because of the potential for an actors walkout. And though SAG's ability to call a strike was diminished greatly by the ratification of AFTRA's contract, the studios are likely to continue the production slowdown rather that start back up.

"They do not want to be in the position where they can be in the middle of a major production and suddenly find out they have a strike and have to shut down in the middle of production," said one veteran transactional attorney familiar with the talks.

If SAG does not accept the offer, the studios are most likely to wait it out until Aug. 15 rather than lock out actors, according to an entertainment labor attorney who represents producers.

"I think the AMPTP's motivation is to get people back to work," he said. "I don't know if they're going to lock people out because that runs counter to what their desire is."

Another attorney agreed, saying, "There won't be a lockout because that will infuriate SAG members, and that could be the one thing that would bring a strike vote. I think we're just going to be in Never-Never-Land."

The AMPTP could also decide to adopt elements of the offer that are beneficial to the studios or they could implement the entire package or some combination of it.

Then, at that point, employees could work under the new terms and conditions, but there still would be no contract.

Another position the AMPTP could take would be to take some parts of the offer or the entire offer off the table.

"In theory the AMPTP could make it less attractive if they thought the economic conditions have changed," the labor lawyer said. "I think that's highly unlikely, but every day that goes by they lose money."

On the other hand, SAG could put the proposal to its membership to a vote, with either no recommendation or a negative one. (partialdiff)Ì
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