It’s all well and good for a union’s members to recognize that the handwriting is on the wall and it is time to make peace with the employer. It can be credibly argued – as the A-listers of SAG are doing – that that point has been reached with the Producers. After all, in essence, SAG has been on strike too for the last three months.
Is there really anything to be gained by dragging out negotiations with the Produces until the middle of the summer and then striking so that Alan Rosenberg can, as he allegedly lamented this past weekend, get “his strike”? Of course not. A labor union that represents 120,000 actors across the country needs more than that to justify walking off the job.
The real challenges for SAG and for the A-list stars are threefold:
1) what is the purpose of SAG?
2) what do they want it to achieve? and
3) how will it reach those goals?
A clear answer to those questions should drive strategy and internal governance.
My guess is – and it is only a guess from an outside observer – that the WGA strike (and the widespread support the strike had among SAG members) has generated valuable political capital that SAG and AFTRA can now use to secure a contract with the same kinds of improvements that the WGA and the DGA secured. It may even be possible to use the pressure of certain production startup dates scheduled for spring (when producers thought they might get shoots done in advance of the then-expected summer contract talks) to drive a better bargain along the lines of the letter released by Alan Rosenberg and Doug Allen attacking the DGA deal.
But even if the Guild were to secure such a deal, it would likely fall short of what would satisfy many SAG members and I think they would be right to be concerned. The WGA deal barely makes a dent in the structure of the digital world. It, of course, does not touch DVD revenues AT ALL and makes only a slight improvement in the new media environment. Given the impending Blu Ray revolution the emphasis on internet based product as opposed to DVD’s may prove to have been a serious strategic mistake. But it may have been all that the WGA could have accomplished in light of the absence of SAG as a serious strategic partner in the year running up to the strike. SAG was off somewhere else – more concerned about AFTRA, it seemed, than about the upcoming negotiations. The leadership seemed to have assumed that it could allow the WGA to begin the bargaining process and SAG could wait nearly a year before even seriously considering the issues at stake.
Well, water under the bridge, as they say. But that brings us back to the emerging pressure from the A-listers and the effort to establish, in accordance with the SAG Constitution, some form of “affected” voting on SAG contracts. These are tactical moves that may make sense in the current environment. But they do not address the question I raised above. The reason that Alan Rosenberg may not get “his strike” is because there was no serious long term strategic plan put in place at the outset of his administration that may have enabled not only SAG but all the EMI unions to make very significant gains in this year’s round of bargaining and perhaps without the need for a strike.
Hopefully, the A-listers emerging now on these issues will not prove just to be “fair weather friends” of the union, but are interested in some serious discussions about the basic purpose and direction of the organization. That is sorely needed. After all, 2011 is just around the corner.