SAG, industry do the limbo lock

Guild's rejection of studios' 'final offer' leaves sides to ponder next move

With the glow of awards season a memory, Hollywood's film and TV industry finds itself in an all-too-familiar position: up in the air thanks to labor upheaval, with no sign of an imminent breakthrough.

SAG's national board rejected the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers' "last, best and final offer" Saturday after an all-day meeting. The move throws an already tumultuous contract debate — and the industry at large — into indefinite limbo.

The guild received the offer Thursday as three days of negotiations broke down. The union has been operating under terms of the previous contract, which expired June 30.

SAG released a statement at 8:16 p.m. PST on Saturday that read, in part, "The Screen Actors Guild National Board of Directors today voted 73% to 27% to reject the AMPTP's last, best and final offer dated February 19, 2009."

Options are dwindling as the actors union faces a number of unpleasant possibilities. A strike-authorization vote could be revived, though its passage would require 75% assent from voting members, which is far from a guarantee even with 73% of the board saying a disgusted no-thanks to the AMPTP offer.

Rejection by SAG's leadership prevents the companies from achieving the solidity they need to accelerate film and TV production without the threat of a walkout. But without brandishing that threat, SAG gives the AMPTP little other incentive to sweeten the offer enough to gain passage by SAG's board or ratification by the union's membership.

The AMPTP's latest proposal — tweaked from the "final offer" it slid across the table June 30 — bumped some compensation minimums and removed a few contested rollbacks regarding force majeure protections and French hours.

Most provocatively, it stated that the new contract would take effect on the date of ratification and not retroactively from the expiration date of the previous contract. This would prevent SAG from taking advantage of a stronger collective bargaining position by syncing up with the WGA, DGA and AFTRA, which have contracts expiring in May and June 2011. Had the new SAG contract been ratified, it would not have expired until spring 2012.

The union pointed to this new element, which was not floated at previous bargaining sessions in June and November, as a major reason for its rejection of the offer.

"The AMPTP's last-minute, surprise demand for a new term of agreement extending to 2012 is regressive and damaging and clearly signals the employers' unwillingness to agree to the deal they established with other entertainment unions," SAG's statement reads. "What management presented as a compromise is, in fact, an attempt to separate the Screen Actors Guild from other industry unions. By attempting to extend our contract expiration one year beyond the other entertainment unions, the AMPTP intends to de-leverage our bargaining position from this point forward."

The AMPTP responded with its own statement shortly afterward.

"The producers' offer is strong and fair — and has been judged to be strong and fair by all of Hollywood's other major guilds and unions," it reads. "We have kept our offer on the table, and even enhanced it, despite the historically unprecedented economic crisis that has clobbered our nation and our industry. The producers have always sought a full three-year deal with SAG, just as we negotiated with all the other unions and guilds, and have offered SAG a way to achieve an earlier expiration date without contributing to further labor uncertainty. We simply cannot offer SAG a better deal than the rest of the industry achieved under far better economic conditions than those now confronting our industry."

The "earlier expiration date" refers to a clause in the new offer that allows SAG a June 30, 2011, end to the new contract if it ratifies the next contract by then, jointly with AFTRA.

SAG's statement declares: "The Screen Actors Guild's goal is to successfully complete these negotiations and get the industry back to work as soon as possible. The AMPTP has clearly stated their need and desire for financial certainty and industry peace. This new proposal does the exact opposite and will only result in constant negotiating cycles and continued labor unrest." (partialdiff)