Sunday, May 24, 2009

SAG Files Motion to Dismiss Rosenberg Appeal

As you'll recall, several months ago, SAG president Alan Rosenberg and three other hardliners (1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord) sued their own union, seeking to enjoin negotiations and reverse personnel and procedural changes that they correctly anticipated would pave the way for a deal on terms the hardliners are pledged to oppose. Although their requests were denied by both the trial and appeals courts, the lawsuit nonetheless continues in both of those forums (Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC406900 and Second Appellate District 2d Civil No. B214056).

Several days ago, SAG filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, on the grounds that the appeal is moot. You can read the motion here. Even if the court grants the motion, which it ought to, and may well, Rosenberg et al might choose to appeal to the State Supreme Court. They won't get any traction if they do, but regardless of whether or not they do, the lower court case will continue for at least the next few months, and there will be further opportunities to appeal.

So, SAG's legal fees will continue to mount, courtesy of the union's own president and 1st VP. Summer is fire season in Southern California, but it's usually the hillsides that are at risk. This time, though, a bit of SAG's treasury is burning as well.


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Friday, May 22, 2009

SAG-AFTRA Ratify Advertising Agreement; SAG Townhall Features Fireworks

SAG and AFTRA announced yesterday that their combined paid-up membership, about 132,000 members, overwhelmingly ratified the contracts between the unions and the advertising industry. The result was expected, as there was no organized opposition. About 28% returned their ballots, about typical. Of those voting, about 94% voted yes. The deals expire March 31, 2012.

The news from the TV/theatrical side is nowhere near as placid. The ballots went out a few days ago—they’re due back June 9—and SAG’s conducting a series of town hall meetings across the country. The first was last night in Hollywood, and the fur flew. About 600 people attended according to a staff count; although the crowd was reportedly 70% composed of hardline Membership First partisans, they didn’t manage to fill the room. That’s a bit surprising. I’d expected an overflow crowd, given their (apparent?) strength in Hollywood.

What they slightly lacked in numbers, they made up in volume and conviction, according to sources inside the room. Fellow MF-ers like SAG President Alan Rosenberg were applauded for their statements against ratification, while pro-contract voices such as SAG interim National Executive Director David White were booed. The approximately three-hour confab kicked off with statements from the dais, and was mostly taken up by member questions and comments, which were described as overwhelmingly anti-ratification.

That dais, by the way, included SAG Secretary/Treasurer Connie Stevens, chief negotiator John McGuire, White, SAG 1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson (who chaired the meeting), Unite for Strength leader Ned Vaughn, UFS-er Stacey Travis, Deputy NED Ray Rodriguez, and Rosenberg. General Counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland responded to questions from time to time.

According to Vaughn, Rosenberg was asked at the meeting what he proposed the union do if it voted down the deal. Rosenberg apparently replied that the union should get a strike authorization and then, if necessary, strike. How he expects to conjure up the necessary 75% vote for a strike authorization is unclear. In contrast to that high hurdle, it only takes 50% + 1 (a simple majority) to ratify the deal.

More colorful speakers at the meeting were Ed Asner and Seymour Cassel. Asner compared the contract’s effect on actors to “taking the Jews out and shooting them,” leading one audience member to comment that he hadn’t expected Holocaust metaphors at a SAG meeting. Well, why not? SAG politics seem to know no bounds.

Cassel, for his part, spotted former SAG president Melissa Gilbert, a moderate, and, standing at the mic, referred to her dismissively. Cassel later responded to one of David White's comments by saying “bullshit.” This was understandably too much for Johnson, as chair of the meeting, and she ordered Cassel to leave. Out in the hallway, Cassel told me that “I tend to speak my mind, perhaps too candidly.” That certainly seems true.

Another notable out in the hall was Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura on the original Star Trek. We chatted briefly about the Star Trek movie, not SAG politics, let alone Trekian essays about SAG politics. There was also a Jack Nicholson lookalike, wearing a snappy suit, white shoes, and tinted eyeglasses. Maybe it was Jack Nicholson, but somehow I wouldn’t expect to see him aimlessly wandering the halls at a SAG meeting and using the hotel ATM.

David White chatted for a bit after the meeting, and explained the contrast between his reaction to the studios’ February offer (it “sucks,” he said at the time) and the current one (“a good deal with solid gains,” he told me yesterday, and, in the context of the economy and the dragged out negotiating process, even a “fantastic” one). The key difference is the contract expiration date, which in the current deal is synchronized with the WGA, AFTRA and DGA (mid-2011). In the February deal, it wasn’t, and the significance is that synchronicity allows at least some of the unions to make common cause and present a united front when the contract is up.

White previously predicted the deal would pass, so this time I asked whether he thought it would pass in Hollywood. (That’s not necessary for passage, but it would give some signal of a reduction in divisiveness within the union.) He predicted it would, citing the strong messages of support he was receiving from Hollywood members (though not at the meeting), but noting judiciously that “members will vote their conscience.”

Ned Vaughn also told me the deal would pass, both in Hollywood and nationally. He pointed to the importance of consolidating gains and negotiating in solidarity with other unions, especially AFTRA, in 2011. I asked if he thought SAG and AFTRA would be merged by 2011, and he replied that he “would love it if they were.”

A contrasting post-meeting voice was MF stalwart and SAG board member Clancy Brown, who explained his opposition to the deal in more measured terms than Asner and Cassel had used. He argued that “there’s a better deal out there to be had,” and cited “the paltry Internet move over residual” and the “larcenous” force majeure settlement as reasons.

The day before, I spoke with 2nd VP Sam Freed, who is president of the New York board, and separately with board member Mike Pniewski of Atlanta, both supporters of ratification. The latter predicted the deal will pass, and commented that the guild “got the best deal we can.” He cited a variety of positive aspects of the deal, and underlined the need for “stability in the marketplace” for labor.

Freed pointed to the estimated $105 million value of the deal, and said it addresses “the plight of the middle class actor.” He emphasized that the level of concern MF expresses over new media was not supported by current figures: of $1.3 billion in SAG earnings in 2008, Freed told me only 0.05% came from new media. (That’s one-twentieth of one percent, not 5%.) Alluding to the opposition, he quipped “There’s a guy who would be complaining if it was raining vegetable soup and he only had a fork in his hand.”

In other union news, Variety reports that 85 year-old actor Theodore Bikel “has been re-elected to an 11th two-year term as president of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America.” The 4-A’s, as it’s known, is in turn a unit of the AFL-CIO. Its affiliates are AFTRA, SAG, Actors’ Equity and several smaller performers unions: American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), and the Guild of Italian American Actors. AFTRA has a direct charter with the AFL-CIO, awarded last year. The other unions are chartered with the 4-A’s, as far as I know, and derive their AFL-CIO affiliation that way (as did AFTRA prior to 2008).

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

SAG Executive Director: TV/Theatrical Deal Will Pass

The referendum on the proposed contract between SAG and the studios began yesterday, as ballot packets were mailed to about 110,000 paid up members of the Screen Actors Guild. The votes are due back June 9. Will the agreement be ratified? SAG President Alan Rosenberg claims there’s “a good chance” it won’t, but the guild’s interim National Executive Director David White says otherwise, predicting confidently that the deal will pass.

White’s comment came in a wide-ranging, one-on-one interview yesterday afternoon and into the evening. The conversation, which lasted about two hours, touched on topics ranging from the proposed deal, to SAG’s relationships with AFTRA, talent agents and the industry at large, to the question of expired contracts.

The pending deal was, of course, the most pressing issue. White heralded the proposed agreement as “a good deal with solid gains,” and added that “Within the context of negotiations [lasting] over a year and an economy changed radically since 2008, it’s a fantastic deal.”

Asked whether the new media provisions in the deal were everything he wanted, White said no, but expressed confidence that improvements could be achieved in the next round of negotiations, when new media business models will be better understood. (The proposed deal expires in mid-2011, as do the Directors Guild, Writers Guild and AFTRA deals.) He added, “Notwithstanding the rhetoric, there have been upgrades in some formulas in the past and we’ll see some in the future in new media.” Although White judiciously refrained from singling out any particular members or factions, the comment seemed clearly a response to Membership First hardliners, who have frequently pointed to the studios’ 25-year refusal to improve home video residuals as evidence that the new media deal will never improve.

White’s confidence in the possibility of future upgrades led me to pose a question actors ask from time to time: do the studios want to break the union? His answer turned on the intermittent nature of entertainment employment: “Employers have a natural incentive to want weaker bargaining partners, but employers also understand that if unions didn’t exist they’d have to invent them. Unions are the glue,” White added, that allows actors to receive compensation between gigs (i.e., in the form of residuals), that deal with healthcare costs, and with pursuing claims when workers are wronged. He added that having union contracts in place lowers transaction costs—that is, the existence of the union agreement makes it unnecessary for producers to repeatedly negotiate minimum terms with each individual actor.

In other words, as White said, “Employers need unions to serve as an intermediary to ensure a professional talent pool.” And what about those “weaker bargaining partners”? White, the guild’s former general counsel, put it this way: “Our job is to put ourselves in the strongest position with the most leverage possible for the next round [of negotiations]. This contract lays a good foundation.”

Will White be running SAG when that next round comes around? That’s the Board’s decision, of course, but I asked White if he intended to be a candidate for the permanent (i.e., non-interim) NED job. He diplomatically claimed not to have given much thought to the matter, but added that he considered the position a “great job,” albeit a hard one. He also said he was enjoying it, which might suggest a touch of insanity, were it not for the fact that White is not only smart—he’s a Stanford Law grad and a Rhodes Scholar—but is a well-centered and calming influence as well.

Probably key to that sense of calm is an inner optimism. When I asked whether fixing SAG was hopeless, White replied that it was anything but. Instead, he said, board members from various factions have “an appetite to find a way to work together.” In White’s view, the industry and general public see SAG through a prism of political divisiveness, and that prism is not reality.

At that, I demurred, and White did acknowledge that members of the board hadn’t yet found as much common ground as they need to. Helping make that happen is one of White’s roles: “My job is to be the keeper of the focus—remind folks about the need to interact with each other as part of the same team [and] help members rally together.”

It might help if SAG’s board were smaller. In my view, its unwieldy size—71 members—contributes to the guild’s difficulties, since trust and consensus are difficult to achieve in such a setting. White was diplomatic on this score, acknowledging that the board, which was once even larger, might want to revisit the question of size.

If SAG’s internal politics are contentious, so too is the guild’s relationship with AFTRA. White sees that changing: “We are now building on the positive aspects of our relationship with AFTRA, notwithstanding the actions of some individual members.” Whether those members might include those who passed a Hollywood board motion last week to raid AFTRA is a question I didn’t ask White to address.

Should the two unions merge? White replied that that was up to the national board and to the members at large of both unions. In any case, White emphasized the need to reduce competition between the unions in areas of overlapping jurisdiction: “We must not have a race to the bottom on rates and provisions that protect the members.” White indicated he was looking at the idea of a joint SAG-AFTRA committee to discuss jurisdictional issues.

Another tough area for SAG is its relationship with talent agents: SAG’s been without a “franchise agreement” with the agents association since 2002, while AFTRA, DGA and WGA all have such agreements in place. White indicated that at some point, the guild will revisit the issue of the franchise agreement, but that in the meantime “there’s a lot that can be done beyond the formal negotiations of the franchise agreement.”

Speaking of the industry in general, White identified one of his priorities as “reinvigorat[ing] relationships with industry partners.” He stressed that the guild “wants to be viewed as a partner with industry,” and acknowledged that it is “challenging to cultivate relationships,” which is putting it mildly, given the work of his predecessor.

So what next? SAG has a number of other expired agreements—smaller fry than the SAG-AFTRA commercials agreement (expected to be ratified when votes are tallied tomorrow night) and the pending TV/theatrical agreement, but nonetheless important to those who make their living from them. White expressed confidence that the guild will be able to close some of those deals this year.

Circling back, I saved the toughest question for last: what if the TV/theatrical agreement fails to pass? White paused, then gave an answer that once again reflected an underlying optimism: “We’re being bombarded with messages of thanks from members around the country, so I’m hopeful that we won’t have to address that situation.” He’s not the only one who's hopeful. We’ll know in a few weeks.


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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

SAG’s Strange Voyage

Where did the Screen Actors Guild go? After months of news—a near daily barrage covered diligently by various journalists and citizen-journalists, including this author—the guild fell off the radar screen. It was as though 5757 Wilshire, SAG’s national headquarters, somehow disappeared into the black hole that features so prominently in (spoiler alert) the latest “Star Trek” movie.

The quiet was deceptive however. Last week, SAG’s Hollywood board, controlled by the hardline Membership First faction, passed a resolution establishing a task force “to explore the acquisition of actors of AFTRA.” That appears to violate an agreement between the two unions that prohibits disparagement and raiding. The AFL-CIO is currently investigating, and monetary fines are a possibility. The irony is that the guild, controlled (albeit narrowly) by a moderate majority (composed of the Hollywood-based Unite for Strength faction coupled with Hollywood independents and New York and regional members), could find itself punished because of the actions of the autonomous Hollywood Board, controlled by the hardliners. Unfortunately, SAG’s governance structure ensures that there will always be too many starship captains on the bridge at once.

Meanwhile, within SAG itself another battle is looming, and here again the phasers will not be set on stun. Tensions between the hardliners and the moderates rival those between the Federation and the Romulans, and are about to break out again into open war—this time, as the guild membership prepares to vote on the TV/theatrical contract, which was recently approved by the SAG negotiating task force and the guild’s national board. Ballots are being sent to the membership at large today, May 19.

The stakes are high. Ratification will end an almost eleven month stalemate and restart studio theatrical production, which has been at a virtual standstill since the previous contract expired on June 30 last year. Rejection will plunge the union and the AMPTP—the alliance that represents studios and producers—back into stalemate, once again adrift in uncharted nebulas. Nonetheless, the hardliners have pledged to defeat the deal. Although they seem unlikely to succeed—a recent picnic/rally drew at most 70 attendees—they will drive the percentage of ratification down.

For almost two years, the hardliners have acted as though they come from another galaxy, or at least from Planet Claire, where (as the B-52’s explained) “no one has a head.” They started by trying to unilaterally reduce AFTRA’s power on the committee that for decades has jointly bargained the TV/theatrical contract. AFTRA ultimately responded by abandoning the joint arrangement, called Phase 1, and negotiating its own deal with the studios. The hardliners, who at the time controlled the guild, should have foreseen this result, and its effect, which was to reduce not AFTRA’s power but SAG’s.

Compounding this misstep, SAG delayed negotiating with the AMPTP until the contract was almost at the point of expiration. The studios’ response was unsurprising: they accelerated production, stockpiled films, then presented SAG with a take it or leave it offer whose terms mirrored that of the AFTRA deal and, in a key area, mirrored the terms of the Directors Guild and Writers Guild deals as well.

That key area, as even those on the dark side of the moon probably know, is new media. The deal terms in this area, from a union perspective, have gaps in jurisdiction and residuals structure. In this, the SAG hardliners make a significant point. But those gaps flow largely from the revenue-draining effect that new media is having on Hollywood. Technology is driving the perceived value of content towards zero, a matter I discuss in a just-published article in the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law. That’s a pressure that both management and labor struggle to deal with.

Several additional factors helped make the search for better terms than three other unions a doomed mission to a dead planet. These were (1) the general uncertainty surrounding new media business models, (2) the economic fatigue suffered by actors and the rest of the industry in the wake of the 100 day writers strike, and (3) SAG’s lack of bargaining leverage, the latter a circumstance largely engineered by the hardliners themselves. (The recession, whose severity was at first unclear, only made things worse.) It’s as though the hardliners thought they could run at warp speed on cubic zirconia rather than dilithium crystals. Failure was not only an option, it was the predictable outcome.

What’s more, the stalemate itself led to further injury, of four varieties. First, it meant that SAG actors working in TV (a field in which production had continued) did so under the terms of the expired contract, meaning that they missed out on the 3.5% raise that AFTRA received on June 30 of last year by dint of its new deal. That’s amounted in aggregate to tens of millions of dollars foregone.

Second, it means that SAG will be behind AFTRA by 3.5% for at least the remainder of the new contract, because each union will continue to receive annual increases but SAG won’t get an extra bump to bring it to parity. Third, if SAG wants to catch up in the next round of negotiations, in 2011, it will need to trade off some other deal point that it might otherwise have gotten.

Fourth, the stalemate put into play the date that the new contract would expire, which is significant because it determines whether SAG’s deal will expire concurrently with those of the other guilds, allowing it to make common cause with them and increase the leverage of all four above-the-line unions (SAG, AFTRA, DGA and WGA) in the 2011 negotiations. SAG won that point, but at a cost of another two months of delay, from February (when the studios made an offer that would not expire concurrently) until April (when they made the offer that is now on the table). SAG was also forced to compromise pending claims for over $60 million dollars in force majeure payments—claims for actors’ wages lost due to the writers strike—but this may be less of a hit to the guild than it appears, since the contract language on the subject is at best ambiguous.

So where are we now? The ratification ballots are due back June 9, so we’ll know in less than a month whether the long stalemate is finally over. I anticipate ratification will be achieved, but with a percentage in the 60%-75% range, well below the over-90% that’s usually achieved when Hollywood union leadership recommends a contract. Meanwhile, the ballots for the SAG-AFTRA commercials contract with the advertising industry are out to the members, and are due back in two days, on May 21. That one will pass easily, as there’s no organized opposition.

Also of note: several months ago, SAG president Alan Rosenberg and three other hardliners (1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord) sued their own union, seeking to enjoin negotiations and reverse personnel and procedural changes that they correctly anticipated would pave the way for a deal on terms the hardliners are pledged to oppose. Although their requests were denied by both the trial and appeals courts, the lawsuit nonetheless continues in both of those forums (Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC406900 and Second Appellate District 2d Civil No. B214056).

Why don't the plaintiffs drop the debilitating two-track lawsuit, which flouts the concept of unity trumpeted by the hardliners when they were in power? Their motivation for proceeding in the face of near-certain defeat seems political at this point: dropping the suit would damage the hardliners’ campaign in this fall’s SAG elections, where the SAG presidency, and control of the board, are at stake. (Indeed, the political elbows are so sharp that several of the hardliners are also running in the now-in-progress AFTRA elections, seeking to undermine that union’s leverage from within.) Dismissing the suit would also doom the likely attempt the hardliners will make in the SAG boardroom to obtain reimbursement of their burgeoning legal fees. Meanwhile the guild is, of course, incurring significant fees of its own to defend itself and the forty-odd Board members also named as defendants.

Even assuming the TV/theatrical agreement is ratified, the guild has a long way to go before it’s back in our solar system. SAG’s been without a franchise agreement—the contract between the union and the talent agents—since 2002, and four other agreements are expired as well. The union is riven not only by factionalism but by economic and geographic divisions as well. New media issues will recur in 2011, which is just around the corner, and every three years thereafter, since technology continues to evolve faster than Hollywood can respond, let alone than union agreements can be renegotiated. The guild’s new leadership has made impressive progress in its few short months in office, but there are many light years yet to travel.


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Monday, May 18, 2009

SAG Hardliners' Picnic No Walk in the Park

What if you held a picnic and nobody came? That’s almost where Membership First found itself yesterday. A beautiful day, a heavily promoted event, yet the SAG faction was only able to draw about 70 people to its Griffith Park / LA Zoo shindig, reports Variety.

SAG President Alan Rosenberg, who spoke at the picnic cum rally, predicted “a good chance” of defeat for the pending TV/theatrical deal, but that seems unlikely if MF can only attract a handful of members to an event in LA, considered the group’s stronghold. The ballots go out tomorrow (Tuesday the 19th), with a June 9 return date, so we’ll know in a few weeks whether the MF tigers still roar or whether they’ve turned to paper.


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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

SAG Letter re Force Majeure Claims

SAG just sent members an email regarding force majeure claims. It's reprinted below.


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May 12, 2009

Dear SAG Member:

I am writing to update you on the status of certain “force majeure” claims filed on your behalf in relation to compensation owed to you in connection with the 2007-2008 WGA strike. This letter contains important information regarding the settlement of those claims. I urge you to read it carefully and contact the Guild or your professional advisors with any questions. Also, the Guild is hosting informational meetings regarding this settlement proposal for affected series regulars, including one in Hollywood on May 18, 2009 and one in New York on June 1, 2009. Please see the detailed information contained at the end of this letter.

As you know, the 2007-2008 Writers Guild strike resulted, over time, in the suspension of production on many Screen Actors Guild-covered television series, including yours. Shortly after the producers began suspending production on these series, the Guild began initiating claims for certain payments the Guild believes you are entitled to by virtue of the suspension of production during that strike. These claims arise under Section 61(c) of the SAG Television Agreement, which is the provision governing events of force majeure. The term “force majeure,” as used in our collective bargaining agreements, refers to certain events that are considered outside the direct control of the parties, such as natural disasters and strikes. The term is also used to refer to the contract provisions that define each party’s rights and obligations if such an event occurs.

While the Guild’s intention was to settle or arbitrate these claims independently of the recent TV/Theatrical contract negotiations, beginning in April 2008, the producers insisted on including discussion of force majeure issues in the negotiations. Over the past year there have been substantial discussions of the existing force majeure language, changes proposed by both the producers and the Guild, as well as the nature and status of the pending claims. In the weeks immediately preceding the announcement of a tentative agreement between the AMPTP and the Guild, it became clear that many of the producers wished to resolve the pending force majeure caims as part of a global resolution of all the collective bargaining issues between the parties. The Guild’s negotiators took on that challenge and, despite the producers’ demand that the Guild simply withdraw all the claims without payment, our negotiators achieved a settlement of the claims that results in significant payments to series regulars who were affected by the WGA strike.

Before discussing the details of the settlement, you should be aware that the studios and producers vehemently contest these claims. The Guild believes that any suspension of production resulting from a force majeure event automatically triggers the “suspension salary” that is called for by the agreement. The producers believe that there is nothing automatic about it – that instead the contract allows them to decide whether to suspend a performer’s services, and if they don’t affirmatively decide to do that, nothing at all is owed. While I cannot go into a detailed assessment of the merits of those positions due to the ongoing arbitration of these claims, it is critically important to realize that this issue has never before been tested in the history of the contract and there is very significant litigation risk – real risk of loss – in continuing to arbitrate these claims.

As part of the settlement agreement, each studio or producer will make payment to the affected series regulars in the amount of 33.33% of the face value of the suspension salary claims (which is calculated as five weeks at half-salary, or approximately 2½ episodes worth of compensation). The total value of this settlement across all the affected series regulars will be approximately $21.6 million. Each series regular’s compensation paid will depend upon their individual episodic compensation and will vary considerably. You should note that each company has the option to “opt-out” of this settlement on a companywide basis if they do so within 30 days after ratification of the proposed TV/Theatrical agreement. All claims that are not settled because a company opts out will continue to be aggressively pursued by the Guild to arbitration or separate settlement.

This settlement framework is final and has been approved by the Guild’s National Board of Directors, but is conditioned on the ratification of the proposed TV/Theatrical agreement. If for any reason that agreement is not ratified, this settlement will be automatically rescinded and the claims will remain pending and subject to arbitration or other settlement.

Your Guild counsel and negotiators believe that this settlement is both reasonable and appropriate independent of the TV/Theatrical agreement. We believe this for several reasons. First, as I mentioned above, this dispute is based on language that has never been tested before, which means that we have no prior arbitrations or cases that can confirm the validity of the Guild’s position. Second, these claims will be decided by a single arbitrator under the provisions of our arbitration clause, and there is no appeal from that arbitrator’s decision. This means that if we were to lose the case, it is likely there would be no recovery whatsoever, as opposed to substantial real money in actors’ pockets. Both of those factors make this a risky case to pursue when a substantial settlement offer has been made. Third, even if fully successful, resolving the ending claims through arbitration would likely take 18 – 24 months or even longer, during which time our performers would have no payment on their claims at all.

Guild counsel has already begun working with representatives of the producers and studios to prepare to process payments to series regulars as soon as possible after ratification of the TV/Theatrical contract. We will keep in touch with you to ensure that you are kept apprised of the progress of the resolution of these claims and timing of any payments. To further answer your questions and address any concerns, we hope you will attend our meetings for affected series regulars in Los Angeles or New York, the details of which are shown below. For those who are not able to attend one of the meetings, we are also available to discuss the details of the settlement and respond to any of your questions, or those of your agent or attorney, by telephone at your convenience. You or your representative can contact me at (323) 549-6043, or you can contact Deputy General Counsel Will Bensussen at (323) 549-6631 or Assistant General Counsel Russ Naymark at (323) 549-6629. You can also contact us by email at We look forward to speaking with you.

Sincerely yours,


Deputy National Executive Director and General Counsel


Attendance limited to affected series regulars and their agents or attorneys. Please RSVP to Jennifer Heater at (323) 549-6572 or


May 18, 2009 at 6:30 p.m.

Mount Olympus Room (located on the 3rd Floor)

The Renaissance Hotel

1755 N. Highland Ave.

Hollywood CA 90028


June 1, 2009 at 5:00 pm

NY Board Room,

14th Floor Screen Actors Guild

360 Madison Avenue

New York NY 10017

Massive EU Antitrust Fine Levied Against Intel

The European Commission has fined Intel 1.06 billion Euros—about $1.45 billion—for alleged anticompetitive actions against longtime rival AMD and enjoined any future such actions, report Reuters and the NY Times. The fine, a record, is more than double the one imposed on Microsoft in 2004, and 25% larger than a 2008 penalty against a glass maker for price fixing. Intel had no immediate comment, but is expected to appeal. Other tech companies facing EU antitrust scrutiny include Google, Cisco, Microsoft and IBM, with the latter two having actually been charged.

The size of the fine underscores the dominant role European regulators have adopted in antitrust, an area of law that somewhat faded from the U.S. radar screen over the last 30 years, especially during the mostly Republican administrations in that period. That quiescence will change under Obama, according to commentators and the new head of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. In any case, antitrust enforcement is an increasingly global affair and, with antitrust laws in over 100 countries, one wonders whether an international treaty might one day emerge. The political obstacles, however, are probably formidable.

SAG Hardliners: The Trojan Horsemen of the Apocalypse

SAG’s Hollywood branch, dominated by the hardline Membership First faction, has passed a motion forming a task force to explore “acquisition of actors of AFTRA,” reports SAGWatch. The purpose of the awkwardly-phrased motion is evidently to eliminate AFTRA’s jurisdiction over television acting (long a stated goal of MF), leaving it with only broadcasters (newscasters, weather reporters, etc.), singers and others, but not actors. To the same end, various MF-ers, including some who supported the motion, are running in the now-in-progress AFTRA board elections, the better to dismantle AFTRA from within.

All in all, it’s yet another anti-AFTRA campaign, courtesy of the faction whose record of accomplishment includes no ratified contracts, continued opposition to the approved deal on the table, a ten month stalemate, a national board meeting featuring a 28-hour filibuster, a lawsuit against their own union (which continues to this day despite rejection at both the trial and appellate levels), a gaping budget deficit, a loss of almost all pilots and new series to AFTRA, contract rates that are lower than AFTRA’s and will continue to be so for at least the next two years, a loss of tens of millions of dollars in wages to date (due to lower rates in effect during the stalemate), a virtual halt to studio theatrical production for the duration of the stalemate, denigration of the union’s own membership as “frightened little children” and of the union’s own lawyers as “liars,” continued factionalism and infighting, disparagement of AFTRA as a “scumbag union,” and the fostering of enmity from members of other unions (particularly IATSE, obviously AFTRA, and, no doubt, the DGA) throughout the industry. Quite a platform for the upcoming SAG elections.


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Friday, May 8, 2009

SAG Sets Informational Meetings re TV/theatrical Agreement

The TV/theatrical ballots will go out May 19 (about ten days from now) and are due back by mail on June 9. SAG has set members-only informational meetings on the proposed contract. The LA meeting is sure to have fireworks, since the leaders of the Membership First faction, based in LA, oppose the proposed deal.

Supporting the deal are SAG staff and the SAG National Board, including SAG's moderate majority leadership, comprised of the LA-based Unite for Strength faction, LA independent board member Morgan Fairchild, and most or all of the NY and regional board members.

The deal can be ratified by a simple majority (i.e., 50% + 1) of those members voting. If ratified, the agreement would end an over 10-month stalemate.

The details of the meetings are in an email to members (see below).


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Email to SAG members:

Dear Screen Actors Guild member,

As you know, the Screen Actors Guild National Board of Directors voted April 19, 2009, to approve and recommend to members, new, two-year successor agreements to the 2005 Producer-Screen Actors Guild Codified Basic Agreement and 2005 Screen Actors Guild Television Agreement.

Ballots will be mailed to all eligible members on May 19, 2009. Ballots must be mailed in the return envelope provided and received at the Everett, WA, post office box no later than 5:00 p.m. (PDT) June 9, 2009. Ballots received after this deadline, or at a location other than the post office box, will not be counted.

We are holding member informational meetings so that you can hear about the tentative agreement and ask questions. Member informational meetings are scheduled for Hollywood and New York as follows and will be announced for Branch locations next week.

Thursday, May 21, 2009
7 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Renaissance Hollywood Hotel
Hollywood Ballroom
1755 N. Highland Ave.
Hollywood, CA 90028

PARKING: No-host self parking at Hollywood & Highland – validation available at the Hollywood & Highland complex: $2 for 4 hours when you are validated in any shop, restaurant or theatre that is part of the mall. Guild not responsible for illegally parked vehicles.

Monday, June 1, 2009
6 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Directors Guild of America
110 West 57th Street (between 6th & 7th Aves.) New York, New York

Unfortunately, no guests will be allowed. Parents/guardians of younger performers under 18 years-old are welcome. PLEASE BRING YOUR SAG MEMBERSHIP CARD FOR ADMITTANCE (paid thru April 30, 2009). For more information call the National TV/Theatrical Contracts Hotline (323) 549-6665 or email

Member informational meetings are also planned for Branch locations across the country. More information on Branch member informational meetings will be available shortly.

Please plan to attend the member informational meeting in your area to get important facts regarding the tentative agreement. Screen Actors Guild negotiators, national board members and staff experts will be on hand to provide a thorough overview of the tentative agreement.

You can also find more information on the upcoming referendum, including details of the tentative agreement, by visiting the TV/Theatrical Contracts Center at or by emailing

We know how important this contract is to all Screen Actors Guild members. We urge you to stay informed by visiting often, attending the member informational meeting in your area and contacting us with questions and comments.

Watch for your ballot which is mailing May 19, 2009, and when you receive it, vote yes and return your ballot right away. Don't delay, ballots must be received by June 9.

In unity,

David P. White
Interim National Executive Director

John T. McGuire
Chief Negotiator
Screen Actors Guild National Board of Directors Strongly Recommends your “Yes” Vote on this contract. Let’s get back to work with a raise.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Barbara A. Ringer, author of 1976 Copyright Act, 1925-2009

Sometimes an obituary answers a question one never thought to ask. In this case, the question is, who wrote the 1976 Copyright Act? The answer turns out to be Barbara Ringer, who died April 9 at age 83, according to a detailed obituary in the LA Times. And it turns out it took her 21 years (!) of drafting and lobbying to get the law passed.

The significance of Ringer’s accomplishment is this: The 1976 Act was the first comprehensive revision since the 1909 version, which was written in an era that predated audiotape, movies, radio, television, cable TV, and computers. Thus, the changes to the law were momentous. Among many other things, the 1976 Act lengthened the term of copyright, but it also codified the concept of fair use for the first time—a legal doctrine essential to permitting the linking and copying that are essential to the Internet, VCRs, DVRs, and various other technologies.

Also a part of Ringer’s life were the challenges of being a woman in what was at the time almost exclusively a man’s world. When she graduated Columbia Law School and joined the Copyright Office in 1949, most lawyers were not only men, they were heterosexual (or closeted) white men, and the profession was segregated by religion as well (there were “Protestant” law firms and “Jewish” law firms, for instance). Even 22 years later, in 1971, Ringer was passed over for the job of Register of Copyrights—the head of the Copyright Office—and was forced to sue for sex discrimination in order to be awarded the job she would otherwise have gotten.

As for what Ringer did when she retired, well, I could continue to recount the details from the obit. After all, facts aren’t subject to copyright. But I’d rather give the LA Times the traffic. Like most content businesses, newspapers are in a bad way these days, as I discuss in a legal article I’ll soon be posting. So click the link and do your part to help out the local daily.