Jan. 25, 2005
SAG board rips ‘premature’ deal
By Jesse Hiestand
SAG’s Hollywood board wasted no time in denouncing the recently negotiated TV/Theatrical contract Monday, voting 36-3 at its meeting to demand that negotiators reopen the talks instead of putting a “premature, short-sighted and hastily negotiated” deal to members for a vote.
If they ultimately are successful, it would throw Hollywood into chaos as features and other projects would have to be canceled because there would be no guarantee that actors would be available after their current deal expires June 30. At the same time, a similar effort by the Hollywood board failed last year when members strongly approved a one-year contract extension.
For now, the Hollywood board’s vote has no teeth because it is up to the joint SAG/AFTRA negotiating committee to decide Saturday whether the $200 million contract will go to members for referendum. Still, the negotiating committee was split 17-9 in approving the contract last week, and the Hollywood board, which routinely opposes the policies of SAG chief negotiator and CEO Bob Pisano and president Melissa Gilbert, hopes to capitalize on that.
Their cause is helped by the fact that several of the Hollywood board members also served as negotiators, and their near-term goal is to muster at least a 25% opposition to the deal among negotiators, which would force the inclusion of a “con statement” reflecting their views in the referendum that goes to members.
“Since the Hollywood board represents the majority of SAG actors and the majority of money earned under the TV/Theatrical contract, it is safe to assume that thousands of working actors, if given the ability to weigh the pros and cons of this proposed deal, will be voting against this contract when it is offered in a referendum next month,” national board member and negotiating committee member Kent McCord said after the meeting at SAG’s headquarters in Los Angeles.
Union leaders were equally quick to attack their foes on the Hollywood board for allegedly being reckless.
“The group of members who prematurely oppose this contract are pursuing a political agenda and are prepared to walk our membership off a cliff for purely political gain,” according to a joint statement from Gilbert, secretary-treasurer James Cromwell, 2nd vp Paul Christie, 3rd vp Steve Fried and former 1st vp Mike Farrell. “They do not reflect the entire Hollywood membership, which is vast, diverse and smarter than they think. The only body with the authority to truly consider the merits of this contact is the joint SAG/AFTRA negotiating board, which meets this weekend. We have every confidence they will do what’s right for members.”
A growing number of Hollywood-area members also rallied in immediate defense of the new contract Monday night. They included George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Camryn Manheim, Stephen Collins, Ed Begley Jr., Morgan Fairchild, Tess Harper, Tony Danza, Rene Auberjonois, Alfred Molina, Janel Moloney, Jeffrey Tambor, Diane Baker and Melina Kanakaredes.
The Hollywood board urged members to vote down last year’s one-year contract extension, but it was ultimately approved by an 87.4% margin by the members of SAG and AFTRA. Even SAG’s Hollywood division came out strongly for the extension, voting yes by 82.5%-17.5%.
The contract, reached late Thursday with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, was praised by the unions as the most lucrative in their history. They said its gains, including an additional $60 million in health care contributions during the three-year term, benefit every category of actor including background performers and stunt coordinators.
The political infighting between Gilbert’s Restore Respect camp and MembershipFirst, which controls the Hollywood board, has consumed SAG for years and was a major topic during negotiations as well.
One MembershipFirst leader, SAG 1st vp Anne-Marie Johnson, said Monday that the tentative deal should be rejected simply because it was allegedly rushed.
“We were told that SAG would take a few weeks of ‘down time’ to perform due diligence and bring some research to the table as well as alternative negotiation strategies,” said Johnson, who was one of the nine negotiators to vote against the deal last week. “Instead, negotiators began right where they had left off and, as a result, producers won a major rollback in residuals.”
The contract’s opponents are chiefly angered that SAG, like the WGA and the DGA before them, agreed to an AMPTP request that certain residuals be waived on early reruns of new television series in a bid to help the shows survive and thrive. Some WGA officials also opposed this idea, likewise calling it a “roll back.”
MembershipFirst also is furious that SAG/AFTRA did not force the major studios to give them a greater share of DVD residuals. All of the other Hollywood unions failed on that front as well because the AMPTP made it clear that they were willing to risk a prolonged strike to project those revenues, which have proven so crucial to offsetting the frequent failures of major motion pictures.
“It is irresponsible for the SAG leadership to frighten our membership into thinking that the only alternative is a strike, five and a half months before our contract is up,” SAG national board member Frances Fisher said Monday. “We have plenty of time to improve this package and all we want at this point is to get back to the negotiating table.”
Union leaders including Gilbert said they fought for the DVD residuals but, facing intense industry opposition, were instead forced to the last minute as a bargaining chip that allowed them to extract sizable gains in other areas. Those increased included better residuals for performers on the WB Network and UPN, they said at the time.
Bargaining on this contract began Dec. 6 and recessed twice — once for the holidays — before a deal was reached. If approved, the contract will run from July 1-June 30, 2008.
A.L. Miller SW Editor & Chief
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