The Screen Actors Guild announced today that its negotiators have reached a deal with the AMPTP, the Producers who represent the major studios, on their most important collective bargaining agreement.
While the precise terms have not been announced, they are thought to include the new media template that the other Hollywood Guilds had agreed to many months ago as well as a simultaneous expiration date with the other Guilds in 2011. This last point had been the single bone of contention that led to a decision by the SAG National Board to reject the offer recently when it was put on the table after resumed negotiations with the Producers led by SAG’s Interim NED David White and Chief Negotiator John McGuire. McGuire and White were hired to replace ousted NED Doug Allen after a new majority took control of the SAG Board in elections in late 2008.
The original agreement expired last summer but the union had to undergo the leadership change in order to reach the deal. A group called Membership First had won control of the Guild several years ago with the laudable goal of putting rank and file members in greater control over Guild affairs after a period of several years when it was thought that Guild staff had gained too much power. Unlike most unions, SAG staff are not former working actors but professionals with other skill sets. At one point the Guild staff was headed up by a former corporate lawyer who had represented studios directly.
However, once the MF group hired Allen, the former number three staffer from the NFL Players union, its tactics hardened and it soon painted itself into a corner as it led a battle not against the studios but against its sister union, AFTRA. AFTRA meanwhile quickly signed on to a deal similar to that won by the Writers Guild after its 100 day strike ended in early 2008. But the MF group in SAG insisted it could get better terms than those of the other guilds, but did little to increase the Guild’s leverage. Basic and well accepted principles of trade unionism were ignored and the leadership found itself unable to move the Producers off of the terms they agreed with the other Guilds.
Now attention will turn to this weekend’s Board meeting where it is likely MF will fight a rearguard battle to oppose ratification in order to sustain its credibility in upcoming Guild elections. But the new majority will be able to argue that no matter how much one dislikes the current proposed terms the 2011 negotiations will rev up in a year and a half. At that point, if the Guild is able to rebuild its relationship with its sister unions, it may be able to present a genuine united front to the employers.