Sunday, October 26, 2008

SAG Update: Union Meets with Mediator

SAG leaders met Friday with the federal mediator, and in a statement said that they discussed with him the union's request for mediation and "the possibilities regarding the resumption of negotiations." The AMPTP is set to meet with the mediator Thursday.

It's hard to be optimistic though: the two sides are very far apart, and both are very dug in to their positions, particularly on new media. Unfortunately, I expect mediation will fail by around mid-November, leading to the negotiating committee sending a strike authorization vote to the membership. That reportedly takes 30-45 days, suggesting that we could have a strike in January.

I'd guess a strike, if one occurs, would start before the Globes (January 11), and that (regardless of when the strike, if any, starts) SAG will attempt to reduce the Globes to the same sort of cut-rate press conference it did last year during the writers strike, when A-list actors promised to boycott the ceremony, leading to its elimination. The strategy would be to then threaten to do the same to the Oscars -- a threat that was one of the factors that led to a resolution of the writers strike, just a couple weeks before the telecast.

This time is different though, and the strategy has less likelihood of success. By February of 2008, the studios had achieved all of the upside they could get out of the strike: they terminated unproductive writer deals (through contract provisions called force majeure), did their deal with the Directors Guild first, and established the new media template they desired. All they faced was downside (destruction of the Oscars) if they didn't do a deal, and they faced no downside from doing a deal.

Here, though, the studios face, in their calculation, a downside if they do a deal on SAG's terms: they would be "rewarding" a very intransigent union and would be fracturing the new media template they've fought so hard for. Unions that accepted the template -- the Directors Guild and the smaller AFTRA actors union -- would have been in effect punished for their more accommodating style of negotiations. Moreover, the AMPTP would be giving additional ground in a significantly worsened economy.

For those reasons, there’s a significant possibility that the studios would accept destruction of the Oscars as a cost of doing business. There’s also the possibility that some, or even many, A-listers, few of whom appear to support a strike, would cross SAG protest lines and attend the Oscars. This would reduce the “cost” to the studios, as well as fracture the union.

This is the formula for a long and bitter strike. I hope, if and when an authorization vote goes to the membership, that they reject it. There are several steps between now and a potential strike, so there’s still hope that cooler heads will prevail. Unfortunately, there seem to be scarcely any at SAG, so the best hope is that the members resist the “educational campaign” SAG would wage, and vote against a strike if a ballot does go out.