The Producers came out swinging today as the defeat of SAG in the AFTRA ratification vote signaled a significant weakening of the Guild’s bargaining position.
First, the Producers sent a letter out to 120 politicians restating their commitment to doing a deal. Of course, now they can point to the fact that all the other talent guilds have got a deal in the can and thus the full ramification of the Guild’s “go it alone” strategy is becoming clear: SAG is last in line and under tremendous pressure now to get a deal done.
This political initiative, of course, is an attempt to get out in front of SAG in the public arena in case the Guild attempts to widen out their campaign.
The union has done almost none of this to date, in fact, they have had a very poor track record on this front as they failed to secure tax credits for film production in California and then stood by and watched as the pro-labor LA Mayor as well as the head of the AFL-CIO’s LA labor body both congratulated AFTRA on their contract outcome.
Second, it was reported in the trades for the first time today that the Producers put a little sweetener in their “final” offer in the form of a commitment to make their proposed wage increase retroactive to July 1 if, but only if, SAG gets the deal ratified by August 15.
Of course, the game here is that this would require the union leadership to agree to the deal quickly in order to allow time for a ratification vote by the entire union membership.
(SAG’s current leadership blocked an effort to put in place so-called “affected member” voting that would restrict contract ratification votes to those actually working under them on a regular basis so this means all 120,000 members nationally will vote on any contract offer.)
More importantly the sweetener would likely come coupled with a requirement that the Membership First leaders themselves endorse the deal and that would be a bitter pill for the union’s Hollywood-based leaders to swallow.
SAG itself was pretty quiet today only letting out their barking blog dog, SAG WatchDog, to throw cold water on the offer. While nominally managed by one Arlin Miller, the website is widely understood to be a mouth piece for the hard core within the Guild’s Membership First party as opposed to the slightly less militant Alan Rosenberg/Anne Marie Johnson group. Thus one cannot read his post as a reflection of how SAG will respond.
Labor negotiations often play out like a chess game and we appear to be beginning the end game. The producers moved first signaling an interest in getting a deal done yet holding on to the possibility of imposing the “final” offer if SAG balks.
Tonight the Wall Street Journal confirms that the Producers are, indeed, edging towards declaring an impasse. Their logic is that while the current SAG leadership cannot command sufficient support of its members to strike it can, as long as it is in office, drag out negotiations until it survives the September union election. In fact, the MF party may fear losing that election if they settle now. Hence, the Producers see nothing to be lost by imposing their last offer in order to start up some production.
SAG now has to come up with some way of both signaling that they are serious about doing a deal (if, indeed, they are serious) and yet re-gain the leverage they lost when the AFTRA vote result came in. That will not be easy to do.
Being “last in line” is no fun.