Wednesday, April 2, 2008

SAG Thinks, Blinks

The Screen Actors Guild bowed to the inevitable yesterday and set a concrete date -- April 15 -- for commencement of talks with the studios. Had SAG not done so, it faced the prospect of a rival actors' union, AFTRA, setting a date for talks first, and thereby setting a template for SAG's negotiations.

That prospect -- which seems unlikely now -- would have undermined SAG's leverage, a situation unacceptable to SAG. That's because SAG represent movies and almost all primetime television shows, whereas AFTRA represents no movies and only three primetime shows. The contract being negotiated concerns movies and primetime shows (as well as some other areas).

The problem for SAG is that AFTRA may not be looking for the same deal points SAG is. The situation's unclear, because the committees of both unions reportedly agreed on the same package of demands. Yet, the recently-agreed AFTRA daytime pact (an agreement that is soley negotiated by AFTRA) doesn't track with SAG's publicly-stated demands, suggesting that AFTRA may be more willing to compromise than SAG. That's been SAG's concern with AFTRA in general; each union has a rationale for the approach -- hard line or conciliatory -- that it takes.

In any case, the key publicly-discernible differences are as follows (for detailed explanation of these issues, see my previous blog article):

First, SAG wants improvements over the WGA deal in new media, apparently in at least two areas: elimination of the 17-24 day window during which no residuals are payable for ad-supported streaming of new television shows; and elimination or reduction of the budget floors below which certain shows produced for new media are not covered by the union agreement.

Second, SAG wants compensation for forced endorsements (product placement on steroids). AFTRA's daytime agreement gained some improvement in a related matter, which is announcer endorsements of products, so perhaps the unions are close on this issue.

Third, SAG wants improvement over the writers deal is DVD residuals. These rates (percentages) have been low since 1984, when the directors accepted what the writers and actors view as a bad deal, one which has persisted to this day. AFTRA, in contrast, did not obtain (nor, presumably, seek) such improvements when it negotiated its daytime deal.

Another point worth considering: if SAG does strike -- which seems less likely now -- will the strike rules prohibit SAG actors from working not only on SAG projects but also on AFTRA contracts? (Although this by definition exceeds the jurisdiction of the SAG agreement, recall that the WGA strike rules prohibited writing for animation, even though this is beyond the WGA's jurisdiction.) If so, the 44,000 dual cardholders -- i.e., members of both unions -- would be put in an untenable position if working on AFTRA-covered shows: violate the rules and be subject to SAG discipline, or obey the rules and face discharge by their employers for breaching their employment agreements. Quite a dilemma.


  1. SAG's reversal of its position that it wanted to wait until the last minute on TV/Theatrical reflects both the Hollywood faction's concerns about AFTRA and its recognition that the rest of SAG does not support the Membership First/Doug Allen war.

    I think you're off target, in particular in your comparison of the AFTRA Daytime pact with the TV/Theatrical contract. And to suggest that the Network Code results are reflective of what AFTRA's stance might be in the primetime area is suspect at best.

    Though contract demands are generated in a similar process (grassroots, member meetings are used to determine issues of concern and from them develop proposals) the issues in daytime/news/sports are very different from the TV/Theatrical area. DVD is a perfect example - in negotiation, you don't fight battles that are peripheral to your main goals. DVD revenues are not significant in the Network Code, thus there was no serious effort to alter the formula.

    By contrast, wages and internet revenue are important to those who work under the Network Code. The proposed contract carries the best improvements across the board in wages and working conditions of any contract either SAG or AFTRA has negotiated in years. The contract also carries significant improvements ove the WGA/DGA pattern for internet streaming and production for the net - though it does not eliminate the 17/24exhibition window.

  2. I abhor anonymous commentors. Have the balls to put your name behind what you say. Coward.