SAG, AMPTP set to talk Tuesday

Two sides have not met since November

With negotiators from SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers scheduled to gather Tuesday morning to iron out the niggling details of a new TV/theatrical contract, the entire industry can -- failing an unexpected glitch -- breathe a sigh of relief.

SAG and the AMPTP have not met since mid-November, when a federal mediator failed to get the sides to agree upon a new three-year contract. Since then, the dug-in divide between warring factions inside the guild has widened.

The immediate conflict over whether to follow through on the threat of a strike-authorization vote was settled once the anti-strike forces removed national executive director and chief negotiator Doug Allen from his positions and replaced the negotiating committee with a new task force.

That task force, in concert with new chief negotiator John McGuire and interim NED David White, will sit down with Nick Counter and the AMPTP team that negotiates for the networks and studios and concentrate on hammering out a tentative agreement. To get there, long-contested issues of new-media jurisdiction and residuals, DVD residuals, product integration and force majeure protections, among other sticking points, will have to be resolved.

Conventional wisdom holds that the AMPTP will throw just enough pennies on the pile to "reward" the guild's self-proclaimed moderate forces and give them a shot at contract ratification by the larger membership. Presumably, the hard-line, pro-strike-vote SAG forces represented by national president Alan Rosenberg, the deposed Allen and 1st national vp Anne-Marie Johnson will reiterate their consistent criticism of a contract offer they deem unacceptable.

The hard-liners are apparently reiterating their lawsuit claims as well: After having their injunction request attempting to void Allen's firing denied Feb. 5, they filed a special appeal a few days later, only to see the 2nd District Court of Appeals reject that Friday as well.

The fracture within the guild derives not from displeasure with the terms of the deal on the table for the last seven months -- SAG members on both sides of the debate almost universally find it lacking -- but from whether the timing is appropriate to go to the mattresses for potential further gains.

And just about everyone on both sides has a vested interest in getting the deal nailed down so they can restore some confidence and stability to a business reeling from the economic downturn.

Should a tentative agreement result from the scheduled sessions Tuesday and Wednesday, or someday soon, a month would elapse as the AMPTP's company constituents, SAG's national board and the union's paid-up membership get a shot at voting the deal up or down.