After a tense Oscars weekend with the Hollywood studios, the Screen Actors Guild opens negotiations in New York on Monday with the advertising industry for a new commercials contract.
SAG will be negotiating in tandem with sister guild AFTRA for a contract that addresses commercial rates in the age of new media. The contract had been extended twice since 2006.
The Joint Policy Committee on Broadcast Talent Relations, or JPC, negotiates for the advertising industry and ad agencies. Talks are scheduled to run through the week, even as SAG talks with the studios stand at a stalemate.
The Screen Actors Guild National Board of Directors voted on Saturday 73% to 27% to "reject the AMPTPs last, best and final offer dated February 19, 2009."
The overwhelming rejection threw into disarray the latest round of talks between the studios and a new SAG negotiator, leading the guild's moderate wing.
It had been hoped that the Screen Actors Guild’s seven-month stalemate with producers would be over this week.
But after three long days of talks in the AMPTP’s boardroom, the studios raised the stakes with a new ultimatum for the guild: Sign the “final offer” in 60 days or risk getting an even worse deal.
“The terms in the offer are the best we can or will offer in light of the five other major industry labor deals negotiated over the past year and the extraordinary economic crisis gripping the world economy,” the AMPTP wrote in a statement released last night – the first news from either side since this new round of talks began. “The producers have pledged to leave the last, best and final offer on the table for 60 days, at which point we reserve the right to modify or withdraw the terms of the offer. We urge SAG members to review the offer for themselves at amptp.org and consider not only the enhancements but the significant gains in wages, benefits, new media residuals and jurisdiction.”
SAG responded on Saturday with the following statement:
"We entered this round of negotiations sending an unmistakably clear message that we were ready to make a deal. In an effort to put the town back to work, our negotiator agreed to modify the Guild’s bargaining position to bring the Guild in line with the deals made by our sister unions.
"The AMPTPs last-minute, surprise demand for a new term of agreement extending to 2012 is regressive and damaging and clearly signals the employers’ unwillingness to agree to the deal they established with other entertainment unions. The demand for a new term of agreement was not part of their final offer of June 30, 2008; it was not part of the federally mediated talks of November 2008, and should not have been inserted into the discussions when we returned to negotiations on February 17, 2009."
Within minutes, the AMPTP volleyed with its own statement defending its offer:
"The Producers' offer is strong and fair - and has been judged to be strong and
fair by all of Hollywood's other major Guilds and Unions. We have kept our
offer on the table - and even enhanced it - despite the historically
unprecedented economic crisis that has clobbered our nation and our industry.
The Producers have always sought a full three-year deal with SAG, just as we
negotiated with all the other Unions and Guilds, and have offered SAG a way to
achieve an earlier expiration date without contributing to further labor
uncertainty. We simply cannot offer SAG a better deal than the rest of the
industry achieved under far better economic conditions than those now
confronting our industry."
The problem is that SAG wants its new contract to date back to last July, and not date forward from any new agreement date, because that would distance the guild from the contract expiration dates of sister guilds, and weaken its bargaining power.
So, what happened? The new task force dominated by members of the anti-strike, pro-AFTRA merger faction Unite for Strength were ready to accept the deal in the name of getting the industry back to work. The AMPTP’s willingness to negotiate for the first time since November also indicated they might give way on some issues. One would think even president Alan Rosenberg and guild 1st VP/Membership First spokesperson Anne-Marie Johnson would be more inclined to come to some kind of consensus in order to focus on the commercials contract talks beginning next week in New York.
Entertainment attorney and blogger Jonathan Handel speculated in TheWrap last week whether “Alan and Anne-Marie will try to spike the deal.” Today, Handel criticizes the AMPTP for refusing to make a few minor adjustments in SAG’s favor – on French Hours, for example – as a sign of good faith. In Handel’s view, sending the deal to SAG’s membership without the national board’s recommendation could backfire. If the members vote no (as they did in the unofficial “push” poll in September), the producers will have no choice but to make those minor adjustments when they eventually meet again with the task force. Is getting rid of guaranteed meal periods really that important to the studios?
And if you just can’t get enough of labor palaver, check out a panel entitled “How Will Labor Discord Change Hollywood?” at 7:30 Monday night at the ArcLight Sherman Oaks. Moderated by L.A. Times Editorial Board Member Jon Healey, panelists will include AFTRA National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgepeth, SAG Unite for Strength spokesperson Ned Vaughn, UCLA Law professor David Ginsburg, Veoh Founder and Chief Innovation Officer Dmitry Shapiro, and Jonathan Handel.