Fight on now or fight on later?

Campaign over TV/theatrical pact heats up; commercials deals OK'd

The flags are flying — and so are the arrows. With ballots in members' hands, leaders of SAG's two rival parties are making an aggressive last push to sway the ratification vote on the tentative TV/theatrical contract. Advocacy e-mails and videos are proliferating amid accusations of fear mongering, strike intimation and personal appeals to financial damage in the event of a rejected deal.

The union had a members-only town hall meeting Thursday night at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel. Additional informational meetings are planned for June 1 in New York and in other regions during the next two weeks.

Ballots were mailed out Tuesday and are due back June 9.

In related news, SAG and AFTRA memberships as expected have ratified new commercials pacts with the advertising industry that were brokered last month by their joint negotiating committee. The official tally showed 93.8% of those voting approved the deals, which expire March 31, 2012.

The TV/theatrical vote is likely to be much tighter.

That deal was approved by SAG's national board by only 53.4%-46.6%. Now the rank and file of the 110,000 or so paid-up members eligible to vote must decide whether to fight on now or fight on later.

The conflict arises from whether the gains in the deal are acceptable. It has been characterized recently as everything from "a real plan for dealing with the future" and "break(ing) unprecedented ground" to "utterly unacceptable" and "terrible on every front."

A no vote brings back the possibility of a strike-authorization vote and takes the fight back to the AMPTP. A yes vote locks in the new terms, however imperfect, with sunset clauses and a June 30, 2011, expiration date that virtually guarantees a rematch on controversial new-media parameters in two years.

Meanwhile, the campaigns are targeting the 30% or so of the lower- and middle-class membership that typically end up voting.

"I think a lot of the members are not going to vote because they feel like, 'I don't really know enough about it,' " said SAG member Wendy Worthington, who said she will vote for the contract's passage. "That is frustrating to me. A lot of them listen to the loudest voices."

As SAG member Greg Itzin put it: "It really becomes an emotional issue. And if you make an appeal emotionally to what is essentially an emotional group of people, you can sway them one way or the other."

Dylan Baker, who works in commercials, TV and film, once found MembershipFirst's message appealing. But he feels that the 2000 commercials strike crippled the industry and in this cycle cites stalled film production and the fact that so many broadcast TV pilots are now covered by AFTRA among his reasons for supporting the new contract. Additionally, he believes the new-media gains are sufficient.

"We definitely need to establish SAG's jurisdiction in new media, and I think this contract does that," Baker said. "It doesn't break it down as much as we would like to. But hopefully, if we're all aligned in terms of AFTRA and the other unions, we can get closer to understanding it in the next two years so that the next contract will address it more concretely."

Several SAG members, including writer-actor Cathryn Michon, added that it feels as if the writers strike never ended. Itzin pointed to everyone from producers to caterers to prop and post houses that are hurting and blaming SAG for handcuffing the industry.

"We need to go back to work," Itzin said. "We need to stop being the pariahs in the industry."