Tuesday, July 1, 2008

SAG: What Next?

Hollywood’s quiet today. Still, with the studios’ “final offer” on the table, the natural questions is, what happens next – and will there be a strike? My answer: there won’t be a strike until late July at the earliest, if at all, but there also won’t be a SAG deal until then, at the earliest. Here’s why:

  • Tomorrow, Wednesday, SAG and the AMPTP (studio alliance) meet. The AMPTP says it will answer questions regarding their offer on the table, but not entertain counter-offers.
  • Sometime after that meeting, SAG will probably issue a press release blasting the deal, although perhaps stopping short of formally rejecting it.
  • Then everyone stops working for a few days for July 4.
  • Next Tuesday, July 8, the AFTRA ballots are due back, and we’ll see whether SAG succeeded in defeating the AFTRA deal. There are three possibilities:
  1. The AFTRA deal passes resoundingly. Then, SAG will ultimately have to bow to the reality that it won’t be possible to make significant improvements to the AFTRA deal (though some may be possible if SAG stays focused in negotiations). The process of accepting this setback, and accepting the resulting reality, will take time and happen in stages, like grieving (per Elisabeth Kubler-Ross). Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance may all be part of the process.

In any case, SAG leadership would take time to change its internal thinking and its public spin. Then there would have to be negotiation with the studios to close a deal (and the studios almost surely would negotiate a bit from yesterday’s “final” offer). This process will take several weeks at a minimum. So, the earliest we would see a deal would be late July.

  1. The AFTRA deal is defeated. Unlikely, but possible. In this case, SAG will probably call a strike authorization vote, a process that takes 2-3 weeks and requires a 75% affirmative vote. If that vote passed, the leadership could call a strike at any time. Because of the 2-3 weeks (which starts July 8), the earliest we would see a strike would also be late July.
  1. The AFTRA deal passes, but with only 50%-70% of the vote. In this case, SAG will declare a moral victory and dig in its heels. We’d spend the summer with SAG, AFTRA, and the AMPTP jockeying for position, with none of them necessarily strong enough to deliver a knockout blow. And, unlike the WGA strike, where the Oscars became a deadline that forced a resolution, there appears to be no such hard date this time.

Complicating things: if the AMPTP’s offer constitutes a “last, best and final” offer (the AMPTP says it does, but reportedly some guild sources say it doesn’t), and if SAG formally rejects it (which they may not be obligated to do – what if they neither accept nor reject it), then the AMPTP could decide to declare an impasse. Then, the AMPTP could either impose the terms of the new deal on any SAG actor who chose to work, or lock out the SAG actors. That’s a lot of if’s, and, also, a lockout might (or might not) galvanize the union. Nonetheless, watch for this as a possible move.

For more thoughts on the situation, tune in to the investor conference call I'm doing for Wachovia Capital Markets, today (Weds.) at 11:30 a.m. Pacific (2:30 p.m. Eastern). The call is open to the public and free of charge. Details in the post just below this one (http://digitalmedialaw.blogspot.com/2008/07/im-doing-investor-conference-call-for.html).