In what some SAG activists claim is a violation of core SAG bargaining principles, SAG apparently negotiated a new labor deal with TV Land some time last year, a production company owned by Sumner Redstone controlled media conglomerate Viacom.
As a cable company TV Land should be subject to the master “basic cable” agreement that SAG negotiates with cable companies. That agreement incorporates by reference the other major relevant agreements SAG does with larger producers. That means actors on basic cable benefit from the weight SAG brings to bear in its major negotiations.
However, SAG broke with that practice here, according to online reports and negotiated an individual agreement with TV Land. This approach is consistent with that of AFTRA in the cable environment. While many SAG activists claim that cable is SAG territory AFTRA has nonetheless succeeded in getting producers to sign on to deals with them using a variation of one of four different contract templates that reportedly offer far more attractive terms to producers. Roberta Reardon defends this approach as being “flexible” and helping keep jobs in the US. SAG activists maintain that it is a race to the bottom in working conditions and pay.
A key give away in the new SAG deal reportedly is an agreement to allow TV Land exhibitions of their shows for up to one year free of residual payments to actors. Of course, the producers have been attacking the residuals system for some years. SAG activists point out that it is critical to the entire entertainment industry to maintain residuals because it keeps actors and their families afloat in between employment.
A second complaint about this particular deal is that it was not discussed at the entire National Board or sent to the membership for approval which is the case with many of SAG’s agreements. Instead it was agreed to, with some opposition, by a standing committee of SAG. Some SAG activists believe that SAG’s leaders were fearful of a full debate about the deal while there is a full scale push by SAG leaders for merger with AFTRA.
Since this deal with TV Land looks like an AFTRA-style deal it suggests that merger will result in SAG compromising its core bargaining standards, such as a defense of residuals on new distribution platforms, membership voting on major contracts and the use of master agreements to insure uniformity of collective bargaining standards across the industry.
Some defenders of SAG argue that the deal is an indication of why merger makes sense but that seems a challenging conclusion to reach. Surely this should have been seen by SAG’s pro-merger leaders as precisely the time to demonstrate the new leverage that they claim merger will represent. Instead, it looks like they took a page out of the AFTRA play book when they cut a cut rate deal in secret with TV Land.
UPDATE: This post has been updated in the wake of reports that the TV Land deal was, in fact, made last year and kept under wraps by SAG rather than recently negotiated as originally was reported on various blogs.