In an overwhelming vote but with the standard low turnout SAG members, as predicted here weeks ago, ratified their quickie deal with the studios.
The deal contains modest increases to daily minimums, a bump up in employer contributions to the Pension and Health care plans but no change to residual formulas for DVDs which continue to generate billions in cash for the studios and no real shift forward in the approach to new media despite the tsunami like shift to downloads and streaming that is now underway with firms like Netflix in the lead.
Attention will now shift internally as the Guild and (its siamese twin) sister union AFTRA begin merger talks.
The vote was 94% Yes and 6% No with approximately 25% of the membership casting ballots (these numbers reflect the combined votes of SAG and AFTRA members – a total of some 137,000 actors). The deal comes months before the formal contract expiration date, which was a date fought for by the current “moderate” leadership of the Guild back in 2008 yet was not in fact used by them to push for significant gains by the actors. The hope and claim back then was that the June expiration date would allow the Guild to work with the WGA in a coordinated bargaining effort. This has not in fact materialized and now the WGA is once again left on its own to confront the studios.
Nonetheless, the moderates are in clear and firm control of the Guild. A half-hearted effort to lead a No campaign by Membership First leader Anne-Marie Johnson went nowhere. Her statement defending first class air travel fell flat. While the MF group will likely try to influence the merger discussions they appear to be completely disoriented by their failure in power during the prior regime when they dragged out negotiations with no discernible vision or strategy for the union.
The challenge for the moderates now will be to demonstrate that their support for merger will make any appreciable difference for actors on the job in an industry undergoing dramatic technological and organizational change. But with this victory they have easily bought themselves several more years in power to make their case.