It's finally over.
The eleven-month standoff between the Screen Actors Guild and producers came to an end Tuesday night as SAG members voted overwhelmingly to approve the union’s new TV/theatrical contract with the AMPTP.
A whopping 78 percent of members who returned ballots approved the ratification of the new contract. Thirty five percent of the 110,000 members who received ballots returned them by 5 p.m. Tuesday -- an above average turn-out for SAG referendums.
The vote count in the Hollywood Division was 70.7 percent to 29.3 percent in favor. In the New York Division, the vote count was 85.7 percent to 14.3 percent in favor. And in the Regional Branch Division, the vote count was 89.1 percent to 10.9 percent in favor.
The contract provides $105 million in wage increases and other improvements, including a 3 percent wage increase, a .5 percent increase in pension and health contributions and residuals for new-media work similar to the guild’s home-video residuals.
The pact goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and will expire June 30, 2011 -- the same date AFTRA's primetime TV contract is set to expire. The WGA's contract with the studios' group will expire a month earlier.
SAG President Alan Rosenberg, who has called the contract a “terrible deal” that would “just kill actors,” accepted the result and is turning his attention to re-negotiating the contract in 2011.
"The membership has spoken and has decided to work under the terms of this contract that many of us, who have been involved in these negotiations from the beginning, believe to be devastatingly unsatisfactory,” Rosenberg said in a statement.
“Tomorrow morning I will be contacting the elected leadership of the other talent unions with the hope of beginning a series of pre-negotiation summit meetings in preparation for 2011. I call upon all SAG members to begin to ready themselves for the battle ahead.”
SAG Interim National Executive Director David White praised the guild’s membership for ratifying the contract. “This decisive vote gets our members back to work with immediate pay raises and puts SAG in a strong position for the future.”
The guild’s chief negotiator John McGuire thanked the SAG members and staff who helped the union reach a deal with the AMPTP April 11.
"We emerged with a solid deal that the members have now voted up. The negotiating team worked tirelessly, building on the work of the first negotiating committee, to deliver these improvements to members,” McGuire said.
UFS spokesperson and board member Ned Vaughn told TheWrap that the board will now focus on re-opening negotiations for SAG's four other expired contracts covering basic cable, primetime TV animation, cable animation and video games.
"I'm delighted. SAG members have made a very smart decision," Vaughn said. "We made some important changes, produced some important results and we want to keep building on that success by negotiating the other outstanding contracts and to absolutely start repairing our relationship with AFTRA."
Representatives AFTRA and the AMPTP congratulated the guild in separate statements.
“The ratification vote by SAG members is good news for the entertainment
industry,” the AMPTP stated. “We look forward to working with SAG members -- and with everyone else in our industry - to emerge from today's significant economic challenges with a strong and growing business."
AFTRA president Roberta Reardon stated, “We're pleased that SAG members will now enjoy improved wages and working conditions, and we applaud their efforts to negotiate a solid new agreement."
The contract’s ratification ends weeks of campaigning by SAG’s opposing factions Membership First and Unite for Strength, the group that currently holds the majority of seats on the guild’s national board.
In a series of online videos produced by SAG, Tom Hanks, Kate Walsh and Sally Field, among others, said the wage increases were necessary for actors struggling with financial burdens brought on by the ruined economy and runaway production.
According to the guild, working without a contract for almost a year has cost members an estimated $85 million in pay increases. SAG’s sister union AFTRA, which ratified its own TV/theatrical contract with the AMPTP last July, snapped up jurisdiction for 66 out of roughly 70 TV new pilots.
Membership First, the faction opposed to ratification, produced its own series of videos criticizing the new contract. Martin Sheen, Ed Harris and Elliott Gould argued that the contract doesn’t include residual for low-budget new-media work, lacks rules governing product placement and doesn’t address the issue of force majeure.
Hollywood’s largest union has been riven by internal opposing factions since its commercials strike in 2000. The war over the current TV/theatrical pact began in the fall of 2007 when SAG’s national board then led by Membership First voted to institute bloc voting, which would have given SAG more bargaining power in their joint negotiations with AFTRA.
AFTRA responded by splitting from SAG and negotiating its own contract with the AMPTP. The provisions of that contract mirrored those included in contracts signed by the Writers Guild and Directors Guild.
Negotiations for SAG’s contract began in April 2008 and ended without a new deal when the contract expired on June 31. After months of speculation over whether SAG would call for strike authorization, SAG members voted a majority of Unite for Strength candidates onto the national board. The board fired then-SAG executive director Doug Allen in January and vowed to obtain a TV/Theatrical contract.
The members’ rejection of the contract will greatly affect the guild’s elections in September. Rosenberg has not announced whether he will seek a third term as president. UFS members have not announced any presidential candidates that would oppose his reelection.
“This will certainly give the moderates an edge during the elections,” entertainment attorney and blogger Jonathan Handel said. “Neither side has announced their candidates. Although James Cromwell has been mentioned as the moderate’s possible candidate for president.”
Nominating petitions will become available Monday. Candidates will be interviewed by the national nominating committee June 20-21.
Longtime Membership First board member Anthony DeSantis said that no matter how SAG members vote, the guild must focus on working together and holding its leaders accountable.
"Some people may be tempted to believe this contract was the battle. But the real enemy standing between us and fair wages is not UFS or Membership First, it's the AMPTP," DeSantis said.
"We have to find a way to build consensus. Until we do we can play this game over and over again. I need to see the reaching out to the other unions. In about a year and a half, we're going to be back at the table. This isn't the end of the battle, it's the beginning."