SAG rejects AMPTP's 'final offer'

Three-fourths of national board casts 'no' vote

SAG's national board rejected the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers' "last, best and final offer" on Saturday after an all-day meeting. The unequivocal 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 the terms of the previous contract, which expired June 30, 2008.

SAG released a statement at 8:16 p.m. 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's 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 actively 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 somewhat 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 June 30. 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. The new SAG contract, if ratified, would not have expired until sometime in spring 2012.

The union pointed to this new element, which was not floated at prior 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 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 in 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. Those two unions split their joint bargaining arrangement, known as Phase One, early last year. AFTRA went on to reach its own agreement with the AMPTP shortly thereafter.

SAG's statement declares: "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."

Meanwhile, SAG negotiators move into joint bargaining with AFTRA for a new commercials contract with the advertising industry Monday in New York. Those talks are scheduled to run all week, take off a week and then resume for the rest of March until an agreement is reached.