Another deadline has come and gone


The latest deadline in the stalled talks between SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers has officially passed.

The AMPTP had given SAG until today to have its members ratify the studios' final offer made on June 30, when the actors contract expired. If the union did so, the offer would be retroactive to July 1.

SAG rejected the AMPTP's offer and made a comprehensive counterproposal, which the AMPTP in turn dismissed.

A ticker on the AMPTP's Web site calculates that SAG has lost more than $10.3 million in the past 45 days by not ratifying its offer. The figure is based on the AMPTP's proposal package, which it says is worth $250 million.

"By continuing to reject the producers' final offer, SAG's negotiators have ensured that their members will lose out not only on salary and other economic increases but also the new-media rights and residuals already available to all other guild members," the AMPTP said.

When SAG and AFTRA were negotiating their video game contract, companies involved in those talks made an offer that also included a retroactive perk.

AFTRA members accepted the offer, while SAG members did not. Yet when SAG eventually accepted the deal, the companies agreed to make the contract retroactive — though they didn't go as far back as AFTRA's deal.

"Retroactivity is almost always a bargaining issue," said labor attorney Howard Fabrick, a onetime AMPTP chief negotiator. "It puts pressure on the members of the union. It's a dangling carrot, and the working members will put pressure on the union saying, 'You have to accept it.'"

The last formal meeting between SAG and the AMPTP was in July. Yet in an Aug. 3 message to members, SAG's chief negotiator and national executive director Doug Allen claimed smaller "group meetings and exchanges" were ongoing with AMPTP reps and industry leaders.

The claim was rejected by some in the guild. "We're of the belief there's nothing going on," a New York board member told THR.

A studio exec close to the negotiations said the guild has been told, "If they want to talk with the studios, they have to do it though the AMPTP."

The next big date in the saga is Sept. 18. That's when members will either re-elect those who control the majority of the national board — known as MembershipFirst — or elect those who are part of the opposing faction, Unite for Strength.

"I see MembershipFirst hopefully getting voted out," the New York-based SAG member said. "That would depend on the L.A. membership, but then you would have some chance for meaningful dialogue between the two parties."

If MembershipFirst is able to retain its control, it could strengthen its position. That could lead to a strike-authorization vote being taken to SAG membership, something leadership has been hesitant to do amid the guild's factional infighting.

"If current leadership remains in power, they may view that as a vote of confidence to seek that strike authorization," Fabrick said.

If Unite for Strength wins the majority, it might cause the AMPTP to be more open to bargaining again. "If you've reached an impasse with a group that then gets new leadership with different players on the one side, it does change the attitude of the employer to meet with them," the labor attorney said. "They don't have a history of antagonisms. It could very well be constructive."

But as one management exec noted, "A change could be positive, but the studios aren't going to give away the store just because new people are there." (partialdiff)