Curiouser and curiouser: What is really going on over at SAG?

images-31One does not have to be a conspiracy theorist to be concerned about three events that took place today in and around the new leadership at the Screen Actors Guild.

Consider:

1) Former SAG senior staffer Sallie Weaver, who as far as I can tell has barely been heard from since the day she left the Guild several years ago, turns up with a detailed email to SAG Watch, a blog that is part of the New Majority that ousted SAG NED Doug Allen on Monday, which explains how SAG can get to “parity” with AFTRA in the current contract stalemate with the Producers. Sallie Weaver is a partner with new Interim SAG NED David White in a consulting firm that advises various parties in Hollywood how to deal with SAG’s complicated collective bargaining agreements.

Curious.

2) Richard Masur, former SAG President and NY based leader of the New Majority, is out with an interview in the BackStage blog Strike Watch in which he, too, advocates “parity” with AFTRA.

[Update: Masur, of course, was only referring to parity with respect to the new media template agreed to by all of the guilds other than SAG.]

His argument is that SAG should agree to parity with AFTRA because otherwise it would be a more expensive union than AFTRA and that would incentivize producers to sign deals with AFTRA not SAG. Now that is, indeed, a curious argument. If that is the rationale for the existence of the Guild then, heck, why not just cut your rates by 10%. Presumably the work would just flow in.

Of course, presumably, the purpose of a Union of actors like the Guild is to offer actors the very best possible wages and working conditions and to attract Actors to SAG on that basis so that Producers have to meet those requirements to make their entertainment product, rather than the other way around.

And the presumption going into the recent contract round is that the Producers have been making money hand over fist, largely through the decade long gravy train known as DVDs. Nearly $24 billion a year and counting in revenue from DVDs alone recently. Thus, attacking the lopsidedly unfair DVD formula (which for our non-Hollywood audience allows studios to rake at least 80% off the top for themselves before a dime goes to content creators like writers and actors) has been a central goal of the Guild.

And beyond that the new media environment is coming online, although Membership First and the Guild when MF ran it until this past weekend wildly exaggerated the segment’s profitability. What is required is creative and aggressive pressure to stake out the Actors’ rights to revenue that will, almost certainly, rapidly increase over the next five years or so. To not stake out that ground now is to invite a repeat of the DVD disaster.

But to state now that all you are looking for is parity and that, in fact, to ask for more would actually hurt the Guild is a curious position to take for an experienced union leader like Masur.

And,

3) Now that the negotiations are in the hands of John McGuire (or is it David White? I am not sure under the new structure) the first step that the Guild is taking is to meet, once again, with the very entity that has refused to budge for months on their so-called “last, best and final” offer.

Now what is the purpose of this? What are McGuire and White bringing to the table? A promise to drop new media, to fit into the so-called “template” and then ask the AMPTP to make some face saving concessions as outlined in the Sallie Weaver memo?

Is this why the New Majority went through the misery of resisting the sectarian pseudo-militancy of Membership First? 

One would have thought that White and McGuire, as union leaders now, not just outside consultants, would like to meet with their union first, and not just with the National Board members who are paying them hundreds of thousands of dollars, no doubt, to engage in their new roles. But rather with the rank and file membership, with the A-listers who bear significant responsibility here for resisting the strike vote, and then with the leadership to clarify a clear plan to INCREASE the Guild’s leverage BEFORE they sit down with the AMPTP.

This is not to underestimate the damage done by the ultimatistic rhetoric and tactics of the now ousted Allen and his MF backers. No doubt that their go it alone strategy is largely responsible for the hole that the Guild is now stuck in.

But I fear that the Guild may be very quickly digging itself out of one hole and landing in another, dug this time by the Producers’ whipsawing strategy laid out over the last year and a half.

14 thoughts on “Curiouser and curiouser: What is really going on over at SAG?”

  1. I guess we will just have to agree to disagree. I think that stopping the current momentum to hold another round of membership meetings would be an unwise use of the time available. Not just SAG but the entire industry that SAG depends on is bleeding profusely thanks to the bungled previous negotiations. At this point, SAG members are all pretty much lined up on one side or the other of the key issues. Delaying talks with the AMPTP until, say, April in order to accommodate more meetings would most likely do little more than frustrate and infuriate a large segment of the membership.

    The overall timing must also be taken into account. SAG (with AFTRA) is also about to begin negotiating its Commercials contract, which negotiations are due to begin in late February. Unless SAG acts now with Film/TV, there is a strong chance that either the Commercials negotiation would have to be put off again — which the JPC has already indicated that it would not be willing to do — or SAG will find itself stretched incredibly thin trying to do both. Or the Film/TV negotiations will have to be put off for months.

    Commercials are a significant source of income to SAG members, and this current round of negotiations is expected to be quite challenging due to the impact of changing audience characteristics and the impact of technology. SAG really needs to be at its best for that negotiation.

    And of course the major risk if Film/TV gets pushed anywhere close to summer is that negotiations there will be paralyzed by the upcoming SAG elections. No one will be willing to agree to anything, because of the certain knowledge that whatever is agreed to will be used as a campaign issue one way or the other.

    From these pragmatic considerations, therefore, I support and agree with the decision to schedule immediate meetings with the AMPTP. No one knows, of course, what the SAG negotiators will encounter. There is also a danger that if agreement is reached too quickly, people will distrust it and feel that SAG didn’t try hard enough. So I’m expecting that there will be some back-and-forth, and it may take a while to hammer something out.

    I should also mention one additional consideration. If SAG can reach an agreement in the very near future, it has a decent shot at preserving the June 30, 2011 expiration date (synchronized with AFTRA). This is a valuable strategic advantage for SAG. I would not want to jeopardize it by taking steps likely to move the AMPTP negotiations into the summer, because at that point I think the AMPTP may be unwilling to agree to such a short contract.

    VG

  2. Again what am I assuming? You seem to be more interested in sly suggestions than actual fact. My blogs rely on my research and analysis of public and private sources. If you have any facts that contradict my posts, then, please instead of insinuation, share them with us.

    This is the second time I have asked you to back up your mischievous allegations. Well, at least you have not yet engaged in the slander that Membership First would when I raised criticism of them. But I hope the point is clear: let’s get down to facts and reality so that we are moving the discussion forward in a concrete and useful manner.

    WIth respect to “parity” I am not hinting at anything. I am against “parity” – that’s why last September i wrote a memo that outlined a way for SAG to break the template. Several SAG board members expressed support for the strategy but MF ignored them.

    Now the new leaders think that all is lost, that there are no alternatives to signing the New Media template. They may be right – they are better informed than I am (and if they do sign the NM template there is no shame in that given what MF has wrought) but nonetheless I am not so sure. The only way to find out is for the new leadership to bring in all the resources at their disposal. They are going in another direction.

  3. You are right, it may not matter. So why did you raise the question. It was certainly not relevant to my post.

    There is some possibility that a different chemistry can improve the contract. But the best way to improve the contract would be to have a unified membership stand behind their negotiators. Muzzling Alan Rosenberg (likely illegally) and then not involving the rank and file in the negotiations, including A-listers, is not the way to do that.

  4. I forgot to add that you don’t know if the AMPTP called SAG after they ousted Doug. Do you know who called whom?

    It really doesn’t matter. However, I think that this team can improve on the unfinished contract left by doug allen. Absolutely. I think that if you have absolutely no respect for the person(s) (the Allen’s) with whom you are negotiating, and that team changes to someone with whom you’ve dealt before and someone you respect as an adult, I think that negotiations can actually result in a better deal than the ruins left by the Allens. Does that make sense?

  5. you are assuming a heck of a lot in this article…

    what’s wrong with Sallie Weaver sharing her concept? Why is that curious? It was quite good and very interesting. Just because she’s not as active it doesn’t mean her brain stopped working.

    What does the word “parity” get you all hot and bothered? What are you hinting at?

    Why the heck should the new leadership come to the membership AGAIN? OMG we’ve had enough!! WE just want them to do their job already. We want them to sit down and clean up the MESS that Alan and Doug and Members First have left. WE want them to clean it up as best they can.

    Again, you assume the new leadership did not engage A-listers? How do you know that? Do you have a source?

    OK…I did not mean to come off so angry the first time. But I have to tell you, it seems to me you are manipulating events to fit some kind of bizarre scenario.

    Can you answer any of my questions? And I thought a blog, no matter whose it is, was to discuss, ask questions about the topic (in this case your article) and get responses. Am I wrong about that?

  6. Linkedin was down the same day that the links to the
    Entertainment Strategies Group listings on the SAG resources site
    were getting PAGE NOT FOUND.

    But what disappeared that day I have safe in hand.

    Voiceguy wrote:

    Sallie Weaver and David White were not partners. White was
    the principal of Entertainment Strategies Group, LLC. Weaver’s
    organization is Entertainment Labor Consulting, Inc. Though the
    names are similar-sounding, they’re not the same.

    It was the first appearance of a history it recently became necessary to invent.

    I am sending you a pdf. Pages 10 and 11 will prevent any further
    disinformation from Voiceguy on that part of the invented history
    of what Weaver and White have been up to.

    Even curiouser is Drier’s investment in Entertainment Srategies
    Group. But then I could be unaware of the high sums to made
    from investments in labor consulting.

    Or it isn’t even just curious if you consider that Sallie Weaver, when she left SAG, took the foreign levies contracts out of the building for very good reason.

    buildim=ng whern she left SAG for o good reason.

    n Voicegiuy wrote

  7. Thanks, Lilly, I appreciate the opportunity to defend myself on my own blog!

    But since facts appear to be important to you, please tell me which ones I have wrong and then I will be happy to respond.

    Oh, and yes, I do have a bit of experience in the labor movement and with contract negotiations, not that that matters here.

  8. Sorry i meant to say “how do you know SAG was not called by the AMPTP to have a meeting. Can you make sure this is posted after my last comment?

  9. hey mister man, Don’t you think you are being a bit on the judgemental side with nothing to back it up? Are you a union organizer? Do you have contract negotiation experience? Or are you just stirring the pot to make some interesting reading. I say “make” as in make up.

    Stick to the facts. Membership First messed up in every possible way. How do you know that the A-listers have not met with the new leadership at SAG? How do you know they were approached by the AMPTP to have a meeting? You don’t.

    Wait. Watch. Listen. You might learn something about being a reporter. I will give you another chance. But just one.

  10. VG:

    Sallie Weaver and David White were at ESG together until it shut down. Now she runs ELC.

    That a contract has to be agreed to is no doubt true, and the troops are exhausted and impatient, true. But a new team should take advantage of every chance it has to drive a solid deal. Just because MF had no idea what it was doing does not mean they are entirely wrong about some of the issues still on the table.

    Of course, the two sides are probably not as far apart as MF likes to make out – it has always seemed to me that they were intent on blowing up any differences at all with the Producers into a mortal crime against the American worker in order to sustain their own political credibility once the WGA strike sucked all the air out of the room (again, likely the WGA had no choice but to go out first when they realized MF was intent on targeting AFTRA rather than the AMPTP).

    But if it is the case that the LBF from the AMPTP and the last set of terms that Doug Allen and David Jolliffe put on the table were not that far apart, it would be nice if it was clearly explained to the members because my sense is at this point that MF rhetoric about sell-outs and whatever has had some impact on some significant portion of the membership.

  11. Steve — perhaps you underestimate how deep is the hole. SAG is at the point of losing significant jurisdiction to AFTRA, so it has to make a “parity” deal lest further work go that way. Once a union loses territory, it is very difficult to claw back. SAG has to merge with AFTRA, but it has to have some leverage to make that deal with the rival union. Tables have surely turned!

  12. Sallie Weaver and David White were not partners. White was the principal of Entertainment Strategies Group, LLC. Weaver’s organization is Entertainment Labor Consulting, Inc. Though the names are similar-sounding, they’re not the same.

    I have to disagree with your overall view. At this point it’s damage control and live to fight another day. Meetings with the membership now would be counterproductive, and only add to the overall frustration that members feel. I estimate that SAG’s intransigence has already cost the members and the P&H funds over $100 million dollars since last July 1. The financial cost of holding out has already been too high, and members don’t want to keep piling up the losses. It’s time to get a deal done.

    VG

    P.S. — You should enable the “review function for comments.

  13. steve – have you seen our song today by alan rosenberg? it’s up at thewrap.com. hope you’ll check us out. we just launched this week. best, sharon waxman.

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