SAG Drifts Sideways – Producers Remain in Driver’s Seat – UPDATED Monday

SAG met for some ten hours today to figure a way out of the mess they are in. Apparently, the new majority and its new staff leadership were taken aback by the hard bargaining they ran into from the Producers this past week. Nonetheless, they emerged with some movement on issues that the Membership First group had been unable to resolve. 

For some reason, though, both factions in SAG appeared shocked that the Producers insisted that a three year deal would terminate not in 2011 but eight months later. That obviously complicates any attempt to increase Hollywood labor’s leverage since it means SAG’s deal would come up for renewal long after that of the other guilds. There are nonetheless some ways to deal with this problem as I recently discussed with Backstage’s Andrew Solomon.

Thus, the rational outcome here would have been to send out the deal as negotiated for ratification simultaneously with a strike authorization vote as AFTRA did with its deal terms. In other words, after a year of bargaining it is time for the membership to speak.

Instead, the Guild’s National Board once again drifted sideways. They are rejecting the AMPTP’s offer but refusing to allow the membership to speak on either the contract or a strike.

Once again, the Guild wants more but they have done nothing to increase their leverage. 

A month ago, I warned of this possibility here when I wrote:

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.

So, now what? A strike vote of 75% of the membership for a coordinated contract expiration date is a non-starter. My proposal to bring A-listers openly into the process is now far less likely to be possible – I doubt even the most pro-union of them is going to step forward on this issue.

I can think of only one more possibility here:  a sit down immediately with the leadership of the other guilds to discuss the issue of coordinated expiration dates. If SAG is serious about dragging out the negotiations over this issue, they better make sure they have the backing of the very unions with whom they are expected to coordinate bargaining with in, what, just 2 years or so. And that should include the IA.

From the the other side of the bargaining table, what can one expect? It would not be a stretch for the AMPTP to declare bargaining at an impasse. In fact, the refusal of a union leadership to send a proposal out to the members for a vote can be a sign of impasse. That leaves the studios free to impose the terms of their last offer. At one point that idea was thought unlikely since it might galvanize opposition to the producers. But of course the last offer does contain a 10% wage increase as well as residuals for at least some new media work. That means money in people’s pockets and my guess is the imposition of the last offer would not provoke the opposition it once might have.

One final oddity about today’s SAG board meeting. A contract with interim NED David White was approved apparently without any debate about the terms of the contract allowed. One controversial term is White’s salary, rumored to be at least $400,000 per year. That puts White’s pay at roughly the same as that of the ousted NED, Doug Allen, yet White is not in charge of negotiations as was Allen. White is the candidate brought in by the new board majority, yet that same majority often complained about their lack of access to contract terms for Allen and their inability to debate them. Apparently, what is good for the goose at SAG is good for the gander.

[UPDATE: I have heard, second hand, that the new majority was willing to bring Mr. White into the board room for a vetting process but was, once again stymied by dilatory tactics used by Membership First. If anyone can provide first hand confirmation, let me know.]