SAG-AFTRA Planning to Send Strike Authorization to Members

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Negotiations with the AMPTP studios have failed to reach a deal. Also, the union released an independent accountants’ report refuting unrelated claims of wrongdoing.

A month of talks between SAG-AFTRA and the studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, has failed to produce a deal. Citing “outrageous rollbacks,” the union’s national board on Sunday voted unanimously to send out strike authorization ballots to its members, the organization's website indicates, unless a deal is reached by Friday, when the current contract expires. That last implies that talks are still continuing.

The vote came after a report from the negotiating committee.

In order to pass, a strike authorization vote would require a 75 percent yes vote from those voting. Even that would not necessarily mean a strike, but it would up the likelihood of one dramatically, since starting July 1, the union will be working without a contract.

Asner Claims Refuted by Independent Report

In separate news, the union’s national board released an independent accountants’ report dated May 28 that refutes claims of wrongdoing by the union raised in April in a letter from a group of dissident actors led by Ed Asner and calling itself United Screen Artists Committee (USAC).

The union had slammed the missive as slammed the missive as “a fantasy [of] discredited claims [by] serial litigants,” and a report, by a Washington, D.C., area accounting firm specializing in labor unions and benefit plans, appears to discredit all of the allegations.

“After a comprehensive review of thousands of pages of documents and electronic records, as well as staff interviews, we have concluded that the financial safeguards in place are equal to or better than those of other labor organizations,” says the report’s executive summary. The safeguards in place are appropriate and are being scrupulously followed. Neither SAG-AFTRA nor the individuals mentioned in the letter engaged in any wrongdoing or financial improprieties as alleged in the USAC letter.”

The report also rejected complaints regarding travel and expense reimbursements, a Nashville building the union acquired, the distribution of foreign royalties, an agreement with startup Exactuals for residuals direct deposit and the union’s charitable contributions. “USAC’s additional assertions about the misuse of members’ monies were both false and unsubstantiated,” the summary adds.

The accounting firm, Bond Beebe, was engaged only for this specific investigation and is not the union’s regular accountants, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Negotiations Background

Of greater import to the industry at large is the so-far failed TV/theatrical negotiations. “We have presented reasonable proposals to address the critical concerns facing our members and that are integral to making a living in this industry,” said a letter to members on the union website. “The AMPTP has responded with outrageous rollbacks that cut to the core of our basic terms and conditions. Despite our efforts, the AMPTP has failed to move on our most critical issues.”

Added the letter, “The status quo is simply unacceptable and our members, standing together, will not give in to management’s onerous demands nor back down on our critical proposals.”

Formal bargaining began almost a month ago, on Wednesday, May 31, and were held at AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks. Prior to that, subcommittees from both sides held several weeks of discussions, focused particularly on three issues that THR had previously identified as key: holds and exclusivity for short season series, funding of the union pension plan and per diem payments and other travel-related matters.

On another big ticket item, residuals enhancements, the ultimate SAG-AFTRA deal is likely to mirror the results achieved by the DGA several months ago and the WGA last month. Those unions achieved enhancements in residuals for high-budget subscription video on demand (HB SVOD) programs and for ad-supported VOD (AVOD) reruns.

On a key major item, basic wage increases, the DGA and WGA announced nominal 3 percent annual wage bumps (“nominal” because there are one or more 0.5 percent diversions to fund benefit plans), but the reality was a bit more complex than that, leading to some uncertainty in what SAG-AFTRA will achieve.

SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris chairs the union’s negotiating committee, with national executive director David White serving as SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator. AMPTP president Carol Lombardini is lead negotiator for the studios and production companies. The bargaining is under a press blackout.

June 25, 8:21 p.m. Updated with information about Bond Beebe report.
June 25, 8:44 p.m. Updated with quotes from union letter and info that Bond Beebe was specially engaged.