SAG Contract Battle: How should the actors vote?

Well, I hope it won’t disappoint my readers but how actors should vote on the current contract is not for me to say.

But it should be said that there will be important consequences to the vote no matter how it turns out. There is little doubt that the momentum is strongly in favor of ratification. The leadership of the union, on all sides, was never able to articulate a clear strategy to improve on the deal won by the WGA. And since that deal was widely disliked by the writers it was of course also not something that any of the various political forces inside SAG wanted to settle for either.

But now, some 16 months after the end of the WGA contract negotiations, SAG is nonetheless being asked to do just that.  In fact, what they will get is worse than what the WGA got because actors have had to work under the previous terms and conditions all this time and will continue to do so until a new deal is ratified.

How could this have happened?  The major problem of course has been pointed out here many times before: the Guild waited far too long to start preparations for the bargaining process and then chose the wrong strategy. Preparations should have begun in 2006 but did not get underway until a year later and then only half heartedly and under the leadership of Doug Allen whose lead foot knew only one speed: plunge straight ahead no matter the obstacle. His obstinance was of course only encouraged by the attitude of people like Joliffe and McCord who have had their heads in the sands of SAG politics for so long that they have lost sight of the world that actors now face.

So instead of articulating a clear strategy for all the Guilds to follow so that a unified attack on new media could be undertaken, the MF/Allen crowd targeted their sister Guild, Aftra.  Aftra has its problems of course and one of them is that it is run so well that it functions almost like a business and while that has advantages it also means that it favors incremental change over more dramatic gains.  It’s kind of like those men in the gray suits back in the fifties who used to say: no one ever gets fired for buying an IBM.  That’s fine until one day companies like Apple and Microsoft come along and soon enough IBM is toast.

Today’s industrial environment requires labor leaders to think more like Steve Jobs than Ron Gettelfinger. Oh, wait a minute, Disney figured that out and put Steve Jobs on their board of directors!

Safe to say, there were no big new ideas coming out of Aftra but MF had a big idea: STRIKE!  Only one problem, the WGA beat them to the punch and drained all the strike energy out of the room. In desperation, MF went after Aftra again and again and they are still up to it, challenging them in their current board elections.

So the net result of this was a complete abdication of serious thinking leadership by MF and then finally the emergence of the opposition bloc between Unite For Strength and long time MF opponents in NY and the Regional Division.  So far, though, they have had no better ideas than to boot out Doug Allen.  They then quickly signaled a willingness to cut a deal, any deal, to get out from under this round of bargaining.  They were taken by surprise when the AMPTP demanded a three year deal and had to pay dearly for it – sacrificing potentially tens of millions in force majeure penalty payments triggered by the WGA strike.  So now a nationwide vote of the Guild’s members is underway.

If the membership votes No, then they are back to square one – no contract, no strategy and a leadership that wanted to cut a deal. Not a pretty picture.  If they vote Yes, they get, finally, the modest gains made by the WGA and Aftra in their deals including the first unionized presence in new media content.  But they also have only 2 years before the next round of bargaining is up and that means they have to start thinking about what to do.  So far little sign of that – and given the short concessionary track record of the new staff don’t hold your breath.

1 Comment


  1. If SAG members vote “yes” to ratify the proposed TV-Theatrical agreements:

    1. They will now have a contract, which will run for a little more than two years.

    2. Because there’s a contract, projects that are on hold due to labor uncertainty may now be put into production (assuming the intervening economic decline hasn’t killed them).

    3. Virtually everything in the existing contracts (the 2005 Codified Basic Agreement and the 2005 Television Agreement) will be continued, except that minimum rates and ceilings will be raised.

    4. SAG members will have New Media provisions comparable to what all the other above-the-line guilds agreed to. These provisions include clearly defined jurisdiction that never existed before.

    5. SAG members will have a contract expiration date identical with AFTRA’s which sets the stage for a return to Phase I joint negotiation. (Without this, joint negotiation would end and probably never be recovered.)

    6. The ongoing loss of member earnings, caused by both the 2007 rates being paid to SAG members and the near-total shutdown of feature film production among the majors, will end.

    These are all strong reasons to vote “yes.”

    VG

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