SAG Strategy Sags

In what is being billed by SAG President Alan Rosenberg as a “compromise,” lame duck SAG NED Doug Allen has proposed that the new majority at SAG agree to his newest tactic:

1) suspend the Strike Authorization Vote;

2) attempt to squeeze something more out of the AMPTP;

3) send the resulting agreement, with or without any improvements, out to the membership for a vote; and

4) if ratification fails then either return to the AMPTP with the rejection as “leverage” or take the brave step of actually sending out the SAV, hoping that would re-generate some leverage.

It is hard to understand how this is a compromise. A closer look makes it clear that it is an attempt to bolster Membership First which is under sustained attack now from the new majority.

First, there is no reason to think the Producers have any incentive now to add to what they have said for months is, really, their “last, best and final” offer. 

Does Allen think they have any reason to reward him?

Do they think that the AMPTP is likely to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

Not bloody likely. They have skillfully woven a straightjacket around the guilds starting with baiting the WGA into a lengthy lonely strike that SAG helped make inevitable when its internal wrangling made them seen a very unreliable partner to even their friends at the newly militant team at the WGA-west.

The only leverage Allen is really offering is his promise to send out the resulting deal for an up or down vote. The Producers might be tempted to sweeten the pot to buy a few more votes. But that is a risky game for them and I don’t think they will be tempted.

It also makes the Guild look like they are a figure out of Dickens: Please, sir, may I have another?

Second, without genuine parity with AFTRA and the other guilds, which reportedly is still not the case with this deal, along with some progress on actor-related issues like french hours or product integration, the deal is could easily fall short of majority approval.  

And, finally, as Sam Freed of NY SAG suggests, to send out the deal in this fashion is an astonishing abdication of leadership.

Most likely Allen and Alan are well aware of this and so calculate, cynically, that they can stretch this agony out for a few months more. That allows Doug Allen to survive the ouster attempts underway while Rosenberg can claim he represents the Guild “majority” and his Membership First party can ride that argument into the fall elections.

Bottom line, this compromise is a one sided attempt to save them from the assault underway from the new majority.

The unanswered question is what the new majority has to offer as a substitute.

Recent events do not instill confidence. They went into the recent National Board meeting to take down NED Allen and the Membership First controlled negotiating committee without a clear strategy in place. 

They were apparently being advised by a union-side law firm no doubt skilled in the art of reading and assessing Doug Allen’s contract, but which seems to have left parliamentary tactics to the inexperienced new board members.

And so the experienced MF infighters, aided by a more than friendly meeting chairman in Alan Rosenberg, were able to abuse parliamentary rules to drag out the meeting.

Even now the new majority seems uncertain of next steps. It is a relatively simple matter to prepare a board resolution that would dismiss Allen, replace the negotiating committee, appoint a new interim NED (the names of former SAG staffers Sallie Weaver and David White have surfaced) and move on with life by using the “written assent” process as provided for in the SAG Constitution.

But other than a botched last minute attempt at a written assent at the end of the NB meeting on Tuesday, nothing yet has happened.

More importantly, the new majority has yet to articulate how they would increase leverage should they gain control of the executive suite and negotiating teams at SAG. 

They have articulated no short run ideas other than a faint belief that the existence of a new team would cause a softening of the hearts of the AMPTP.  On that, see above, “snatch defeat from jaws of victory.”

Their only long run idea is to try to revive the merger talks with AFTRA. That may prove an elusive goal as AFTRA is a very different organization than the one that was willing to support merger years ago.

While the new majority can take some comfort from having stood up to the worst behavior that MF can throw – and the details of what happened at 5757 over the course of that 30 hour marathon are now coming out – it looks to the outside world to have been an exercise in masochism.

What the new majority may not be quite willing to accept is that to lead this union there must be a new unity not just a new majority. That requires a point of view to unify around – and since this is a union not a debating society that point of view must be an articulation of the Guild’s strategic view of its long run role in a rapidly changing industrial environment.

As I recall telling a friend in the labor movement recently, several decades ago I helped train the last remaining shop stewards of the then-independent Hod Carriers union. 

Never heard of them, right? 

Let’s hope the same is not true of the Screen Actors Guild in thirty years time.

SAG seeking more talks – Variety