Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Silly Lawsuit Against SAG Dismissed; and More

Remember the lawsuit that former SAG president Alan Rosenberg and three other Membership First members (1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord) filed against their own union?

No? You may have blissfully forgotten this misbegotten legal action, filed a year and a half ago (!), but the courts haven’t. This is the lawsuit that attempted to reinstate former SAG National Executive Director Doug Allen and undo ratification of the SAG-AMPTP collective bargaining agreement. In a case of chasing a horse that’s left the barn, and despite two court decisions that the action was moot, the lawsuit drags on.

Or maybe not. This morning, yet another judge declared the lawsuit moot. That’s five judges total, since one of the previous decisions was by a three judge panel. In a statement, SAG’s Deputy National Executive Director and General Counsel, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, said “Screen Actors Guild is gratified that this litigation has now concluded with a final reaffirmation of the Guild's position by the trial court.”

Let’s hope. Interestingly, in their opposition filing, the plaintiffs did not oppose dismissal of their complaint. But an observer pointed out that the plaintiffs have crafted their document, and their statements in the courtroom, so as to tee up a motion for attorneys fees. In other words, Rosenberg et al. will probably ask the court to order that SAG pay Rosenberg et al.'s attorneys fee for bringing a case that five judges declared moot and that at the end of the day Rosenberg's own attorneys were willing to dismiss!


In other guild and union news of late:

· In a surprising move, SAG’s Unite for Strength faction reached across the aisle and chose Membership First hardline David Joliffe as the chair of the Negotiating Committee for the AMPTP talks that begin October 1, reports SAGWatch.

· Those talks involve both SAG and AFTRA, negotiating together once again after a bitter hiatus in the last negotiating cycle. In order to make the schedule for joint negotiations work, AFTRA leadership has agreed to a one-year extension to its so-called “front of book” – the portion of its agreement with the AMPTP that covers daytime serials (soap operas) and various other work whose jurisdiction is not shared with SAG.

The extension, which runs through Nov. 15, 2011, is noteworthy for two reasons. First, the compensation increase, effective Jan. 1, 2011, is 2.5% (2% increase in minimums and 0.5% increase in pension and health contributions), significantly less than the 3.5% that was agreed to in the last negotiating cycle, which began before the economy had spiraled into recession. That 2.5% may well set a precedent for the October 1 negotiations.

Second, the extension does not change the new media provisions in any way. This suggests that any changes will be handled in the October 1 negotiations. Those issues will probably be hard fought.

The extension goes out for a vote in a few weeks to membership meetings in the five major AFTRA Locals of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington/Baltimore.

· Speaking of front of book, a new version is now available from AFTRA, incorporating the changes agreed to in 2008. Yes, these books take a while to revise, and, alas, the AFTRA book still uses the same almost unreadable tiny typeface as previous editions. None of the other guild/union books do, and the WGA has even moved away from the small format books to a large size that’s more manageable.

A noteworthy change in the AFTRA book: Ex. A (the portion that is jointly negotiated with SAG) is no longer included. Word is that there will be a separate Ex. A book eventually, but no information on when. That book, if and when it appears, will presumably incorporate the results of the Oct. 1 negotiations.

· It turns out even unions sometimes have unions. SAG does – in particular, a few dozen of its employees are represented by Teamsters Local 986. The contract between SAG and 986 expired June 1, and negotiations are ongoing. In a statement, SAG declined to provide any details on progress: “Screen Actors Guild and Teamsters Local 986 continue to negotiate for a successor agreement. Having agreed to bargain across the table and not in the media, SAG will have no further comment at this time.”

· The Writers Guild voted a few days ago to revise its credit rules. Variety has details on this relatively technical change. And speaking of WGA credits, why not have end credits for “Additional writing by,” so that all participating writers get credit? Decades ago, the WGA agreement provided for a credit of this sort, but it was eliminated in order to create the often-fictional idea that only a small number of writers contribute to a script. The result: caterers get credit and many writers don’t.

· In other WGA news, the WGA West announced 18 candidates running for 8 open board seats: Robin Schiff, David Shore, David A. Goodman (inc.), Cheryl Heuton, Aaron Mendelsohn (inc.), Katherine Fugate (inc.), Timothy J. Lea, Mick Betancourt, Mark Gunn (inc.), Erich Hoeber, Erica Montolfo, Matt Pyken, Naomi Foner, Karen Harris (inc.), Kathy Kiernan (inc.), Christopher Keyser, Steve Skrovan, Matthew Weiner. (inc. means incumbent, and the order of the list was determined by lot). There will be a candidates night Sept. 7 in LA. Voting is by mail or at the WGA annual meeting Sept. 16, with ballots counted the next day.

· This summer is also SAG election season. The president is not up, but 1/3 of the board is. Candidates are usually announced in late July, with voting closing in late September. No details as yet.

· The WGA East (which has a snazzy new logo) announced 23 new digital media signatories to new contracts, bringing the total number of WGAE digital signatories to 43. Twenty eight writers have become new Guild members as a result of the new contracts.

· Finally, an item from a couple months back: AFTRA and the AFM, which represent recording artists and musicians respectively, sent a letter to the Teamsters supporting efforts by composers and lyricists to unionize. The Teamsters are assisting the efforts of the music scribes, who are among the few non-unionized workers in the business (with computer effects workers being another large group). No word on any progress though.


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  1. Thanks for attending and reporting, Jonathan.

  2. ditto to mr ligons comment
    thank you

  3. What are the chances that the motion to order SAG to pay for these fees (which would have been probably 50% less if the fools dropped the suit when advised) to fly?

    Would any judge even consider it?

    Mr. Handel, we are so grateful that you were able to attend the proceedings. Can you answer my questions?

  4. Thanks. To clarify, I wasn't there, but spoke to a source who was.

    A judge will consider almost anything, but it's very unlikely that a judge will grant a motion for attorneys fees under these circumstances.

  5. First, the lawsuit:

    The "moot" issue is seemingly, straightforward, but the main point, which obviously the paintiffs can't get relief for, is this: had the moderates complied with the SAG Constitution, as it existed at the time of the use of "written assent" they would have had to notify ALL the national board members. They did not. That WAS in violation of sate labor law. The fact that Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, retro-actively, CHANGED the SAG constitution to reflect this - "written assent MUST be sent to ALL members of the national board, not JUST the 'yes' votes," was, and is, a tacit admission that he realized the SAG use of written assent in the ouster of the Rosenberg administration was NOT legal under state law at the time they did it. The courts have simply said - "look, they re-voted, the right way, they upgraded the constitution to come into compliance with state law, and they membership ratified the contract - over."

    That's fine. All well and good. But the rub is - what IF Rosenberg and Allen had been granted relief immediately? What COULD they have accomplished in that space between being granted relief and UFS re-doing the written assent properly. Who knows how much TIME that relief could have bought them to go at the membership again and make their case, saying "look at these guys, breaking state law (which they did at the time) trying to bum-rush us out of here - please take a second look at what we're saying, before the TRUE radical agenda takes over." Who knows what might have happened? Remember - it was a VERY volatile time. It's possible they could have exposed UFS and the "moderates" for what they were,, and are - sell-outs.

    Look where SAG is now. Having signed this contract. Lost. UFS is now "reaching out" in Jonathan's words, to David Jolliffe to chair the Hollywood W&W's. Of course UFS is not "reaching across the aisle." UFS realizes they are in terrible terrible trouble, and they are going to the guy MOST vilified to rep the Hollywood division because THEY KNOW NOW HE WAS RIGHT. Jolliffe doesn't need this - he has a heart condition his physician told him either was caused by or exacerbated by the stress of his trying to keep the union ship afloat. He would not have accepted had they not given him UNENCUMBERED authority to chair as he saw fit. Any other spin is wildly unrealistic.

  6. Second:

    On a "macro" level (always wanted to say that), the naivete', again, is breathtaking, and I think the choice of Jolliffe is an indicator UFS is realizing the reality. These are HUGE MULTI-NATIONAL CORPORATIONS, giving marching orders to entertainment sub-division, obscenely paid, executives. And those orders are: "break this union - we don't want the same costs in the 'new' entertainment business."

    They want to fundamentally change the way and the amount actors are paid, and simply because their cost-benefit analysis from their obscenely paid bean-counters are telling them "you can save in this sector."

    Yet the "moderates" wax rhapsodic about "partnerships" and "one union for all performers" and they miss the underlying reality: we have the same choice to make now that we did in 2008, which is "do we fight with all the tools at our disposal to protect our incomes, our pensions, our health programs, our benefits, or, do we allow the wholesale destruction of the union that has protected us for 76 years and can continue to do so, if only we all get on the same page?"

    The folks who NEVER want to strike, are, ipso facto, already capitulating. Simple. The AMPTP will take everything they can and leave the seeds, until and unless we stand up and deprive them of our services.

    SAG is best equipped to do that, and AFTRA, again, is trolling for goodies at SAG's expense. This is the problem. If AFTRA will take the deal, SAG can strike until doomsday. They'll just go AFTRA.

    And actors are the only ones who can stop that. It's that simple. Actors either decide to go with the union that brung us, so to speak, or go home with the other union, who, when you wake up the next morning, makes you ill.

    You want a career? A life? A job? Not to be treated like shit? No sub-standard contracts? No downward trend after 76 years of strikes or threats of strikes to get us every single benefit we enjoy to this day, and some HUGELY important ones we gave away in 2009 thanks to UFS?

    Well then, you gotta fight. And it'll be long and nasty, and some won't survive the battle - some will throw in the towel and go home and work at their Uncle's shoe store. There will be damage.

    But, listen - look at the Gulf. Look at BP. Don't you understand, Ken Howard? Better yet, Ned Vaughn? Amy Brenneman? Adam Arkin? These people are NOT our friends. They may design a multi-million dollar P.R. campaign to make us, and everybody else THINK they are our friends, but when the deal is discussed, the weaponry comes out, and actors have responded with, given SAG's pretty tough history of not taking their bullshit, a remarkable timidity and short-sightedness.

    It's not going to change folks. We have to confront them, be ready to take the consequences, or, watch an already brutal career, where if you work hard, keep your head down, do your thing, show your stuff, and, most important, have some incredible luck, you can live a middle-class life - OR - even hit the jackpot and become stupid rich - become a joke.

    It's all up to us.

  7. Make that in the first post: "had the moderates complied with California Labor Law, as it existed at the time of the first use of "written assent" they would have had to notify ALL the national board members. They did not. That WAS in violation of state labor law.


    What about that don't you get?

    'IF ONLY' and fifty cents will get you a pack of gum.

    Please. They never had a shot because the written assent was properly used from the get go.



  9. You're actually mistaken. At the time the written assent was used, it was sent to ONLY the "yes" votes, and California Labor Law states "written assent MUST be sent to ALL national board members."

    I am purely speculating on a very legitimate scenario: what would the time granted by immediate relief have allowed Rosenberg and Allen to do?

    The fact that Ireland changed the SAG constitution well AFTER the use of written assent to oust Allen and muzzle Rosenberg, showed, clearly, he understood he needed to cover his tracks and bring SAG into compliance. THAT'S WHY HE DID IT.

    I don't know where Jonathan comes down on this, but, the above is FACT.

    And the American Justice system and right and wrong? Are two entirely different things.

    Now, let's all move forward and watch Ken Howard NOT get a reversal in new media terms, without which actors are doomed to a far lesser profession.

    Again, let's see what Jonathan has to say, since he himself wrote that residuals are "hardwired into actors DNA" (not verbatim, but close) and that "there should be a percentage of distributors gross system across ALL contracts. SAG MUST have an upgrade in the WAY actors get paid going forward." (not verbatim, but close)

    No punting, no "3% bump on the new media minimums and residual rates," but a complete reversal and a fair deal that protects actors going forward.

    Care to place a bet Tom?