Studios to SAG: No, now we REALLY mean it!

The big Hollywood studios, bleeding heavily with the weight of the deepening recession, have apparently PUT THEIR FOOT DOWN with a new “last, best and final offer.”

Ironically, this one gives SAG’s new majority just about everything they asked for: parity, more or less, with AFTRA and the other guilds on new media (something Membership First was also willing to agree to if accompanied by a slight bump in cash into the SAG pension plan) along with movement on issues like “French Hours” (which refers to meal hours on film sets) and force majeur (tho some issues were left on the cutting room floor, with “product integration” the most prominent).

Arguably this really means SAG has gotten the same deal it could have had last summer but for the foot dragging by Membership First which thought it could persuade actors to walk out on strike a second time in the same contract round. (Recall, of course, that many SAG members were out of work alongside writers during the 100 day WGA strike that WGA felt it had to engage in alone because SAG was bogged down in a battle with itself at the time.)

For some reason a debate has broken out over one issue on which the two sides could not agree: the expiration date of this new deal. The studios insist that it be a real three year deal which means the AFTRA and WGA contracts would expire many months before that of SAG. Once again, people fear, SAG would be left last in line. Had SAG taken this deal last summer, simultaneous expiration dates would have been part of the contract terms as well as immediate wage increases which are now no longer retroactive.

Of course, there is a simple solution to the expiration problem: merge with AFTRA, if not with the WGA, and bargain as one union. Even if there is not a merger, then SAG could ask the other unions to work without a deal until the SAG deal comes up for negotiations. That could have happened this time around if SAG had known how to build a serious relationship with its fellow unions. But Membership First was dead set on a go it alone, last in line strategy.

That should mean, of course, that they should be the last to attack the current deal. They have, in a sense, gotten exactly what they wanted – they are no longer tethered to AFTRA, if they once again want to try to go it alone and see how well they do.

Stay tuned: SAG’s national board meets this weekend to get a report back from the negotiating Task Force and interim NED David White and the new Chief Negotiator John McGuire. My prediction: the contract will be sent to the membership with a recommendation for ratification. With or without a recommendation, it should pass easily.