Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lawsuit Blocks SAG Negotiations

A lawsuit to be filed this morning by Screen Actors Guild president Alan Rosenberg against his own union has blocked scheduled negotiations between the Guild and the studio alliance, or AMPTP. The development marks a stunning turn in a SAG negotiating cycle that has moved so far beyond bizarre in the last 12 months that words seem inadequate.

The suit, in which Guild 1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson is also reportedly a plaintiff, seeks a court order blocking SAG from implementing the written assent document that (a) fired the previous National Executive Director (Doug Allen), (b) split his job in two and appointed replacements (David White and John McGuire), (c) dissolved the Guild’s negotiating committee and replaced it with a task force, and (d) barred Rosenberg and others from speaking on behalf of the Guild.

Thus, if granted, the order would (among other things) apparently reinstate Allen and the previous negotiating team. The negotiations were to have taken place today and tomorrow. Instead, a hearing on the suit will take place this morning in Los Angeles Superior Court. The uncertainty created by the soon-to-be-filed litigation led SAG and the AMPTP to postpone their talks, with no new date set.

Rosenberg, notably, threatened two weeks ago to lead a “fucking civil war” in the union if the moderates fired Allen. He appears to be a man of his word. The self-pitying Rosenberg of a few days ago is gone, replaced by the more-familiar hardliner who seems ready to burn the union down in order to save it.

Unknown at this time is whether the pendency of the suit will affect the joint SAG-AFTRA plenary (relating to the commercial negotiations) scheduled for this Saturday. One source close to the situation says there will be no effect. Night-time phone calls to SAG and AFTRA spokespeople have not yet been returned.

The likelihood of success of the suit is unclear. However, law professor Steve Diamond believes Rosenberg and Johnson will achieve little traction. Nonetheless, he indicates that the legal proceedings could take a week or two to resolve. I’m inclined to believe this could take longer, when likely briefing schedules and possible appeals are taken into account.

Meanwhile, a meeting of the Guild’s hardline-dominated Hollywood Board took place tonight from 6:30-10:15 p.m. in open session, and another hour (approximately) in executive session. The meeting was preceded by a rally of about 30 supporters of the hardliners, the Membership First faction. The meeting (other than the executive session) was open to SAG members to observe, and it appeared that most or all who came were able to get in the room or an overflow room.

According a source in the room, the meeting consisted mostly of questions directed at interim National Executive Director David White by Membership First. The MF-ers worked from a sheet of prepared questions, and different MF board members asked various questions. In contrast, Unite for Strength spokesman Ned Vaughn did most or all of the talking for UFS board members. White remained cool under strenuous questioning.

The meeting was apparently orderly, a far cry from the contentious national board meeting two weeks ago. One dramatic moment came when Frances Fisher hurled an accusation at Unite for Strength: “There’s blood on that written assent!” she cried, “It’s on you!” [UPDATE: After this piece appeared, Fisher called me and denied having said this. I regret not having contacted Fisher for her comment before posting. I checked again with my source, who is not affiliated with any SAG faction, and my source confirmed that Fisher was the speaker.] Strangely, none of the board members or executives discussed Rosenberg and Johnson’s impending lawsuit until the end of the meeting, meaning that the litigation came as a surprise for some of the observers.

The lawsuit was first reported by The Wrap, with details added by other sources and reported in Variety, Back Stage’s blog, the Hollywood Reporter, and SAGWatch (and here).


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  1. A few terms I question.
    "Hardliners" and "Moderates". Is it now established that "Moderate" people are those that work for little or no pay, and can we assume that "Immoderate" now means those who get fairly paid their value?
    Do you get paid, and does that make you a "Hardliner"?

    Check back, if you would, as to the way you used Mr Rosenberg's quote about "Civil War". Have you altered it and therefore completely changed it's meaning?? I remember his statement as claiming that THEIR actions would start a civil war, if they fired Doug Allen. Not that Mr Rosenberg was threatening that he would do so.

    I wonder why your posts seem so favorable to the side of the United For Strength? I wonder why a lawyer would present in such a biased way. I find that interesting, and puzzling at the same time.
    Do you think the issues are viable? It's almost gossip,your column. And not about the issues. Are you aware there are issues, issues that impact people's lives, deeply.

  2. What a crock of s*#t!

    Someone should hang Rosenberg from a f*#king yard arm.

  3. I'll bring the rope.

  4. To the Romantic: Doesn't matter what trigger Rosenberg decides to use or how he states it. . .the intent is clear. If people did not do what he wanted in this case, "civil war" would be the result. Of course, that is the perspective from only one side of the issue.

    The fact that the SAG Pres is out of control and losing it are things we should be concerned about for his sake - but that does not mean we, as members, need to put up with it.

  5. Romantic: Rosenberg says he will "lead" the Civil War. I don't think there's any real ambiguity there.

    This column is hardly "gossip", as you call it: Handel has historically been excellent at providing both sides of an issue, and getting quotes from parties on all sides who wish to represent themselves.

    You can defend Rosenberg all you want, but shouldn't be surprised that most SAG members don't want a President who calls them "frightened little children": not representing them, and certainly not negotiating their contracts.

  6. As a long time NYC based SAG member I am disgusted by the personal attacks and hissy fits that are being thrown at elected SAG Board members and officers because they actually believe in unionism and fighting for fair pay and protection for all actors in the new technologies arena. Each day finds yet a new announcement in the trades of this or that recognizable actor signing on to develop a an Internet series. I think there is a lack of understanding of just how fundamental the changes the new technologies are bring to the work place by most older members. At the special meeting of SAG membership it was the youngest member in the room who tried to explain to the red-in-the-face with anger older members just why he was supporting Rosenberg. But the roomful "elders" seemed more intent on showing alliance to AFTRA than to their own SAG membership. Quite frankly I think the majority of the New York Board has betrayed the fiduciary trust they assumed when elected to SAG office. We old timers also know just how bitter John McQuire is towards Rosenberg and his supporters. His lack of support of Doug Allen has been quite ck ear to anyone who has engaged him in private conversation.

    Far too much foolish ego has replaced union solidarity,

    And all of this as a response to the AMPTP who has been refusing to negotiate. I say its time to clear the room of all the Forest Gumps and bring back the spirit of Mother Jones.

    This is what Rosenberg and Allen represent to me ... and why I support both of then

    I will respectfully request Sam Freed and his supporters on and off the board to quietly leave the room and let pro-union people stand strong in the showdown with the Producers.

    And for Pete's sake will the rumors stop how all indie, SAG contract work will be halted if there is a strike,,, hundreds of agreements have been and continue to be agreed to between SAG and indie producers,,,,, only the major producers ...members of AMPTP will have their star driven productions affected.

  7. Thanks for your comments. But I know many, many actors and most of them are behind Alan R. all the way. In 10 years, all actors will thank him. Do you realize that so many of us are far poorer than we would have been, if we had received just pennies for all the DVD's and VHS tapes that are in America's homes?

    William Morris is making deals for their high-profile clients, with YOUTUBE. That's right, and it will be made public before the end of February, yet if SAG takes the contract with no decent scale payment for the working actor in middle ground, then we will all be dependent on the government, for welfare, in the future.

    Hulu runs actors performances, and none of those actors get paid. The same person who bought Hulu, is biggest at AMPTP. Hulu is making a huge profit,and certainly all those advertisers pay Hulu everytime an ad is run.They pay Hulu (FOX , RUPERT MURDOCH, PETER CHERNIN) for running their ads. Yet, the people who appear, who are watched by the audience, are not paid.

    What would the world be like without actors? What would entertainment, movies, be like without actors?
    Hobby actors will not provide the same level of acting, nor will voiceover actors of AFTRA. Sorry, but maybe some could but as much as the higher levels of the industry love to put down actors, it is the actors that the audience discusses when they leave all theaters. It is the actors that they go to see.

    Stop the "playa-hating". I think you misunderstood Alan R when he said everyone that is an actor is afraid. It is a very insecure career, and not one that builds, with time, toward a secure future. It's hard to live without knowing if the rent is going to be paid. That's what he meant.

    And that's why there's chaos.
    All the actors I know are afraid to speak out about how much they are behind Alan. They are afraid of being blacklisted. Of never working for these same producers who are in the AMPTP.

    No one speaks up against the bosses anyway, its the nature of this industry.
    Sorry, I still don't agree.
    I think AFTRA made a competitive deal, because AFTRA was competing with SAG while pretending to be the ally. AFTRA was always the lesser sibling, with less of the spotlight. Also, actors don't have to earn their way into AFTRA, it simply takes paying a fee. There are lots of voiceover people etc, who would love the chance to get into a SAG job, by pushing SAG out of the way.
    Problem is, the contract they settled for, and the "final one" offered by the AMPTP will create such a bad situation, that no new actors will want to enter the field, and the ones in already will be forced out.

  8. In the mean while,somewhere between the issues and gossip, middle Hollywood is dying. The crew that makes all this possible is being choked out by the stall. Many have lost much, still more, will loose all. Perhaps when the dust settles Actors can produce their own product.

  9. Figure it out, .....Please!

  10. Hum!

    Just exactly why is it that such tag-ur-it name calling and group label K grade stuff rides over the factual discussion of exactly what the issues are and what effect will result by say 2015 for the "working actor" who used to GROSS $250k or LESS per year (net after agent, manager, lawyer, accountant, etc. is probably between 100K and $150k, and net after tax is probably between $75k and $100k per annum)while trying to raise a family of four or expecting to do so in highest cost NYC or LA + how does each sides positions favor or disfavor the newbie person, waiting tables in a restaurant which is on the cusp, about to close, while trying to improve their talent and earn enough to pay their rent in boffo cost cities like NYC or LA.

    There is little future guesswork needed to figure that studio and producer execs are taking home $1mm to $40mm, have private jets to ferry them (and their family + friends)around and that they benefit by and are behind the bigger share of non-box office gross for them, ergo no more "pennies" per actor for the middle and little guy/gal. When alllll of the useless blab ends just exactly where are the contract points sponsored by both sides going to end up in say 2015 for the middle and little actor?

    A few simple follow-the-money questions might be where is the money coming from to back each group AND who benefits most by each sides positions (big business studio or agency, producer, etc. benefit from which side on this?) plus who is paying all the fees and charges for PR, for favorable news and media coverage from those using tag-ur-it and K grade blabing? What promise or threat has occured to those actors who side with either side?

    Last, who is the annonomoouss idiot puss who must have been pushed through grade school & high school in order to kick such an uneducated person down the road who posted "What a crock of s*#t! Someone should hang Rosenberg from a f*#king yard arm." and then stated that he would bring the rope? Could that have been one of the PR persons hired by the NYC/AFTRA/studio crowd to make such idiocy? Tough to concede that anyone is that disfunctional without attaching money and reason to such babble.

  11. For as much talk as there has been about merging SAG & AFTRA, the real solution should be to "split" SAG into SAG-WEST and SAG-EAST.

    The NY & LA unions have different agendas and would serve the actors of both coasts better as separate entities.

  12. "You're hired..."
    What for so it is rough. Everyone has the right to the point of view.

  13. "Your Hired", meaning that its a great idea to have an LA and NY SAG Union. They do have different agendas. Perhaps implementing this idea would streamline the negotiations and future negotiations, thus... YOUR hired.

  14. Unbelivable and selfish, just what we needed after the writers strike. Now I havn't worked in so ong I lost everything. My house, family and everyting you work so hard for your whole life. I'm stll F'd and NOT working yet. F.U. SAG