Wednesday, September 3, 2008

When Will There be a Contract?

When will there be a new SAG TV/theatrical contract – i.e., when will the studios and SAG close a deal? My guess: not until January or even February of next year. Do the math:

1. If Membership First wins the election overwhelmingly, and if SAG members overwhelmingly vote in the SAG survey (a push-poll, designed to influence people's votes) to have the Guild continue pushing hard for a better deal (i.e., 85% or more affirmative, and a good turnout), then MF will be emboldened to call for a strike authorization vote. If that vote achieves the requisite 75% approval level (a high level, which is why it might take as much as 85% affirmative on the poll, particularly given SAG’s embarrassing failure to defeat the AFTRA deal), then SAG will have gained significant leverage against the studios. All of these conditions have to apply.

But even then, there’s no instant deal. It takes time to win the election (ballots are not due back until the 18th), hold a new Board meeting (I’m guessing early October), hold a strike authorization vote (2-3 weeks), begin negotiating with the studios, and convince them that the landscape of power has changed. This process also runs into Thanksgiving (a week of no negotiations) and Christmas and New Years (2-3 weeks of no negotiations). That takes us into January. By then, it may take the threat of destroying the Oscars to conclude a deal (as was the case with the writers strike last year). Then of course, there’s the ratification vote.

2. If Unite for Strength wins the necessary 6 or so seats to gain control, it will take time to reorient or replace the National Executive Director and Negotiating Committee and time to open and then conclude negotiations with the studios. There will also be distracting fights with MF that will delay matters. In this scenario, we might get a deal in November or December, followed by a ratification vote, perhaps as late as January.

3. If neither 1 nor 2 applies, then we have continued stalemate. SAG (i.e., MF) won’t have the leverage of a strike threat, and will probably not have significant leverage until the Oscars. (That’s assuming the studios restart movie production in the next month or so, in light of the absence of a strike threat. Otherwise, there is some leverage earlier.) Thus, in this scenario, there’d be no deal before January or February. Even so, there’s no assurance that the studios wouldn’t just grit their teeth and sacrifice the Oscars. If that happens, who knows when there’d be a deal.

So, no matter how the election goes, don’t expect this sorry mess to end before January, at the earliest.