SAG, studios face disconnect

Guild claims they're still negotiating; AMPTP disagrees

Three weeks after the expiration of their contract, SAG and the AMPTP appear to be living on different planets. SAG says it's still negotiating; the studios say their final offer is languishing on the table. A weekend get-together of the actors union gave little indication that those worlds are getting any closer.

Leaders of SAG spent the weekend trying to convince members that they are still negotiating with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. At a regularly scheduled membership meeting Saturday at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City, the union's national executive director Doug Allen and president Alan Rosenberg discussed the state of the talks with about 450 members.

The AMPTP, however, has rejected this interpretation, saying negotiations ended when the contract expired June 30 and the studios made their final offer.

Although film production has slowed, Allen told members they were in a de facto lockout, not a de facto strike. And he pointed to a key sticking point in the AMPTP's offer -- emphasizing that SAG should have jurisdiction over all new-media productions, not just some.

Allen also warned members that while there are "sunset provisions" in the AMPTP's final offer, that does not mean that if the actors took the offer now that there would be room for improvement in three years.

Missing from the presentation, however, was any talk of the future of negotiations. No new dates have been set to sit down with the AMPTP's negotiating committee; no timeline about what to expect in coming weeks was mentioned. In fact, SAG leaders told the members they were unable to give specific details of the negotiations, the AMPTP's final offer or the union's counterproposal.

After the meeting, one member said he got the feeling they were planning to meet in smaller groups with AMPTP members in order to hash out a deal, much like what happened during the WGA strike. "They seemed to indicate that there were much smaller talks going on between them and the studios," he said. "I got the feeling there was some sort of communication going on there."

SAG reps have in the past several months met with key studio heads, including Disney's Bob Iger. However, one studio insider close to the negotiations said no such meeting has been set up between SAG and studio heads.

SAG and the AMPTP have not held formal talks since June 30. Since then, there have been three meetings between the sides, including a question-and-answer session on the AMPTP's offer, SAG's response to the offer (which was a counterproposal that the studios rejected) and a two-hour sidebar last week that resulted in "no comments" from both sides.

Those leaving the SAG gathering Saturday said members were mostly upbeat -- and, more importantly, supportive of SAG leadership.

"They were not a bunch of revolutionaries waving their flags," said one member, referring to the SAG leaders. "I'm supportive of what the negotiating team is doing. I stand behind them."

And while things seem to be in limbo, their message was "we're still negotiating," according to those who attended the meeting.

The AMPTP, however, says negotiations ended with its final offer, and it will not entertain any more bargaining sessions or counterproposals.

SAG leaders apparently told members at the meeting that the WGA received several "final offers" and that they believe the AMPTP's final offer is just one of many such offers the studios have to bargain.

Said one member outside the SAG meeting: "It's just a stance to try to convince the actors that this is the best deal they can get and they're not getting anything else. It's pretty standard in labor negotiations. But we're not giving up."

In response to this view, AMPTP sources reiterated Sunday that there were "no multiple final offers" made during the WGA negotiations but rather "comprehensive proposals that they were open to bargaining about."

Another SAG member who attended the meeting said his take on the contract talks was that the main issue for members is jurisdiction and residuals over new media.

"That seems to be a big stumbling block," he said.

To push for support, the AMPTP took out an ad in Monday's Los Angeles Times, quoting what the WGA, DGA and AFTRA leaders said about their new contracts.

"This is the best deal the guild has bargained for in 30 years," the ad quotes WGA president Patric Verrone as saying.

During the Saturday conclave, Allen apparently reiterated what he wrote in a membership letter Thursday about new-media agreements in the WGA and DGA deals.

Allen said that while the DGA and WGA contracts set the template for establishing jurisdiction over new media, those unions' issues are different from those of an actors union and the deals they made don't protect SAG members.

"Management's resistance is frustrating, but we have to be patient," Allen said in the letter. "The stakes are too high to concede jurisdiction and residuals for programs made for new media. That future is now and, if we ignore it, it will pass actors by, and this generation and future generations of actors will never recover."

The AMPTP responded to SAG's letter by suggesting that by refusing to accept the offer on the table, "SAG's negotiators are ensuring that the union members will continue to work indefinitely under the old contract" -- which does not include a single one of the gains in new media that are envisioned by the new contract offer.

Also included in the AMPTP's offer was an Aug. 15 deadline that if SAG were to ratify the offer by then, it would be retroactive to July 1.

But many of those attending the meeting didn't seem concerned that the deadline was looming or that they might miss out on the offer if SAG does not accept it by then.

"It's greed," a SAG member claimed. "But I believe it's not greed on the actors part but greed on management's part."