SAG's N.Y. board: Let the talks begin


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SAG says it will be ready to open contract talks with the studios in the spring.

That's not good enough for the guild's New York board.

They are urging the union's leaders to start formal negotiations for a new labor contract with producers in the next four weeks and not waste valuable time fighting with its joint bargaining partner, AFTRA.

Members of SAG's New York board announced Thursday that they have passed a resolution urging the guild leadership to begin bargaining by March 31, well before the June 30 expiration of the SAG-AFTRA TV/theatrical contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

"I see absolutely no value to the members in delaying these talks any longer," said Sam Freed, the guild's New York president. "We are dealing with serious issues. We should already be at the bargaining table."

The resolution charges that SAG's leadership "is ignoring the proven success of the strategy of early negotiations" and indicated that if its leaders were following recent precedent -- a reference to the early DGA talks, which broke the WGA logjam -- "negotiations on the TV/theatrical contract would now be in process and would be completed by the end of March."

Guild leadership, the resolution continues, "is instead wasting valuable time and Guild resources fighting with our bargaining partner and unnecessarily delaying the start of negotiations."

The jab is a reference to the pace of the ongoing talks between AFTRA and SAG negotiators in preparation for the talks with the AMPTP.

"SAG should pursue a course similar to the DGA, where early negotiations short circuit the need for a strike," New York member Alec Baldwin said.

In a response, SAG national executive director and chief negotiator Doug Allen said that despite the claims that the guild is moving slowly, "we are well under way in this important, collaborative process."

Allen said internal member meetings conducted jointly with AFTRA have been productive.

"We are not only pleased with the level of participation and commitment our members have demonstrated, but also with the productive pace of these critical preparatory sessions," he said. "We are, and will continue, to meet with rank-and-file and high-profile members, and management representatives including the CEOs, to lay the foundation for formal regulations."

In an e-mail sent to national board members late Wednesday and to the membership on Thursday morning, SAG president Alan Rosenberg and Allen said formal negotiations won't come until after March 31. It's not clear whether the letter was issued in response to New York board's resolution, but it addresses some of the issues outlined, among them hammering out a joint-bargaining agreement with AFTRA before taking up formal talks with the AMPTP.

"Given the experience of the DGA and WGA in their recent negotiations, we will certainly continue to meet with the CEOs of the major networks and studios as we prepare for formal negotiations," the SAG letter states. Last week, Rosenberg and Allen met with Disney president and CEO Robert Iger, though details of that meeting and whether any others have taken place were not included in the letter.

Rosenberg and Allen said formal talks won't begin until the "wages and working conditions" process, in which members create proposals for the negotiations, concludes at the end of March.

"There are a number of issues very important to actors that have not been dealt with in either the DGA or WGA contracts, just as some of their most important issues only affected their membership," the duo wrote. "The compression of compensation for middle-class working actors and forced endorsement of product integration, for example, must be addressed in our negotiations."

Additionally, new-media provisions negotiated by the DGA and WGA "would fall more harshly on actors than on writers and directors."

Although some studios have been pushing back production schedules in preparation for a possible actors strike, Rosenberg and Allen made it clear they will not be bullied into starting early talks when they are not ready.

"It is important that our response to the urgency of the calendar is thoughtful, measured and productive," they wrote. "We cannot ignore the calendar. Neither should we impose deadlines on ourselves, in essence bargaining against ourselves."

Some preparations for talks with the AMPTP are under way, including getting up-to-date financial, economic and member earnings data as well as meeting with management to work on the schedule and logistics of negotiations.

The producers started last week negotiations with AFTRA over the union's network code, which expired in January but was extended to March 7. The network code covers actors and all on-camera and off-camera talent on TV programming, which includes daytime TV, variety and musical shows, reality TV, game shows, sports and similar programs.