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Have Issues, Will Travel

Strikewatch_blog Today Strike Watch addresses some odds and ends as we prepare to leave for Poughkeepsie, N.Y. (a k a "Riviera on the Hudson") for a long holiday weekend:

Issue #1: Those who support AFTRA's broadcast prime-time TV contract only slightly outnumber those who reject it, according to results of an unscientific poll conducted by BackStage.com. Of the 1,013 respondents, 52 percent indicated they supported the AFTRA deal and 46 percent opposed it; 3 percent had no opinion.

It's tough to extrapolate from this how the real results on Tuesday will turn out, but this half of Strike Watch will make a prediction anyway: 54 percent Yes, 46 percent No. Esteemed Strike Watch colleague Lauren Horwitch predicts 70-30. Super Pundit and Hollywood Law Man Jonathan Handel goes 60-40, the neighborhood in which I would have purchased before seeing the results of our poll, unscientific as it was.

One neutral observer predicted 80-20 Yes, and an AFTRA supporter predicted 66-34 Yes. We reached out to longtime SAG supporters, but they did not get back to us in time for us to post. No matter. Give us your predictions in the comments field below. If you sign your full name and cite your union affiliation, we will give you bonus points for bravery.

Issue #2: Sean Penn wrote a letter, circulated by SAG, that calls on fellow cardholders to vote no. As would be expected, his letter is eloquent and impassioned, and it contains large doses of idealism and anti-authoritarianism, admirable qualities that are often progressive. However, the reasoning behind his conclusions is questionable, because it fails to recognize the sometimes regressive nature of SAG's leadership.

Penn cites AFTRA's unwillingness to fight for DVD residuals as an example of "corporate appeasement." However, when a unified guild like the WGA takes DVDs off the table even before going out on strike, how much muscle does AFTRA have to wage that battle alone? (The federation has 15 percent of the jurisdiction in scripted programming on broadcast primetime TV, and no jurisdiction in film.) It is one thing to fold at the slightest resistance, and quite another to recognize the forces of history--in this case, some seven decades of pattern bargaining by producers. What they give to one union they give to all. What they deny one they deny all. AFTRA's sense of priorities doesn't seem to be so much corporate appeasement as strategic assessment.

And if SAG wanted DVD residuals that badly--and if it wanted ironclad, far-reaching, lucrative terms for work in new-media--shouldn't it have stood at the forefront of a broad-based union solidarity effort? Instead, SAG chose to fight with its potential partners--actively pushing to limit or strip the branches' voting rights, waging a public campaign against AFTRA's basic-cable contracts--long before engaging its longtime adversary, the producers. One would think a union of actors--people trained in the art of identifying and pursuing a super-objective--would know how to prioritize its goals.

Toward the end of his letter, Penn writes, "I am simply making a plea to all to recognize the moments when the inconceivable becomes acceptable." For SAG leaders and the Hollywood Board, that moment came and went, and that's why they are in the position they're in.

Issue #3: During the Vote No campaign, SAG president Alan Rosenberg has implored actors to vote against AFTRA's contract, or their fates would be decided by weathermen "in Peoria." AFTRA members and actual weather people responded on YouTube. The moment is cute, but it also left me wondering: Doesn't this kinda-sorta bolster Rosenberg's point--non-actors will cast the deciding votes on an actor's issue--particularly when juxtaposed against Penn's letter?

Happy Holiday.

--Andrew Salomon

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I don't see how anyone can accurately predict how AFTRA's Schedule A vote will come out. There have been no scientific polls, and even those are of limited use. The number that matters will be released whenever AFTRA chooses to release it, after the votes are tabulated next week.

Nobody forced AFTRA to walk away from Phase One. They made that decision all by themselves. They also spurned repeated offers from SAG to rejoin them at the table. Lamentably, AFTRA abdicated the most basic of union responsibilities - defining union work and maintaining all such work under union jurisdiction with the signatories.

The AMPTP signatories are rapidly migrating content distribution to the Internet. Through this year's negotiations with the creative guilds, they have drawn a clear line in the sand for New Media, referring to the framework as "well-established". What reasonable person believes the "sunset claus" provisions in light of the AMPTP's past broken promises???

The WGA, DGA, and AFTRA (if Schedule A passes) have simply put off their day of reckoning on New Media for a couple of years, and made their job of gaining New Media equivalency in relation to their Old Media deals all the more difficult. However SAG fares this year, it's quite likely we will face this fight next contract cycle as well.

The Peoria thing was an in your face message to the Allens that amounted to "Kiss Our Collective Asses."

Besides that, it showed that in AFTRA, every category supports every other category - we're not divided by actor/singer/BG/broadcaster/stunts - we're one union.

It also showed that we're not divided Hollywood/New York/Chicago/Peoria.

And it showed we're all in this together.

That's what unions - good unions - are all about.

The Allens still haven't figured that out. I don't think they ever will.


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