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The Waiting Place

Strikewatch_blog  Oh, to be in the Waiting Place, described by Dr. Seuss in the perennial graduation gift Oh, the Places You’ll Go! as “a most useless place.” While SAG supporters frantically phone dual cardholders pleading with them to vote no and press releases from all three parties fly across the internets, most of us are just waiting for July 8--this Tuesday, Tuesday, Tuesday—when the AFTRA ballots are due.

It may be an uncomfortable Waiting Place, though in this reporter’s opinion far from comparable to the days leading up to the Vietnam War or the Holocaust. I’ve actually never been to Saigon or Berlin, Mr. Bart, but I’m pretty sure the threat of Communist and Nazi occupation caused a lot more panic than the threat of fewer episodes of Samantha Who? this fall.

I digress--but it’s a blog, so that’s okay.

During a conference call hosted by Wachovia Capital Markets this morning, new-media guru Jonathan Handel outlined three possibilities SAG and the rest of us may face come Tuesday night. I like Handel: Not only is he informative and candid on the issues but he hasn’t bought into the worldwide hysteria incurred by a possible—possible, people—actors’ strike. In fact, his comments made a SAG walkout sound unlikely. I think Mr. Bart can come out from under his desk now.

 Here’s what could happen, according to Handel:

 Handel_3 Scenario 1: AFTRA members overwhelmingly approve the primetime contract.

“In that case, the message is really sent to SAG that there is unlikely to be support for a strike authorization,” Handel said. We know that SAG leaders need 75 percent of voters to give the go-ahead to strike. If, say, the same 93 percent of AFTRA members who voted to ratify the Network Code in April also vote to ratify the Primetime Contract, the future of strike authorization for SAG looks dim. But Handel did point out that there are plenty of strike-happy actors out there.

“Ninety to 95 percent of [SAG members] don’t even make $28,000 a year as actors. In fact, something like 75 percent of the union doesn’t make even make $1,000 or $5,000 a year acting. So there are a lot of people for whom a strike would not be much if any skin off their noses. Those people may be more inclined to vote for strike authorization.”

Still, the message to SAG would be clear: A good chunk of your membership is fine with the AFTRA pact and doesn’t want to walk out.

Scenario 2: AFTRA members overwhelmingly defeat the Primetime Contract.

“I think it’s unlikely, but it’s possible,” Handel said. “In that case, I think you would see SAG going out for a strike authorization. It would take a few days after the 8th before [SAG seeks authorization], and then the strike-authorization process takes two to three weeks of balloting by mail and so forth. Then they’d have to decide whether they’d have to call a strike, probably negotiate some more first. So the take-away is we wouldn’t see a strike at the earliest until late July.” Actually, it sounds more like we wouldn’t see a strike until August.

Scenario 3: The AFTRA deal passes by a small margin

Handel foretold, “At that point what we can expect SAG to do is declare a moral victory and to say, ‘Look, there is significant opposition to the AFTRA deal. Even given that members are generally likely to vote in favor of ratification of a deal recommended by [AFTRA’s] leadership…. Nonetheless, we drove the percentage down.”

SAG might want to use that leverage to seek strike authorization, but although they’d have a better chance of getting it than in Scenario 1, they still wouldn’t have much leverage or power. The same would apply if AFTRA’s deal didn’t pass by a small margin: SAG could go for a strike authorization, but getting that 75 percent still would be doubtful.

To sum up, Handel said it’s about time for SAG’s Hollywood leaders to get realistic and do some soul-searching. “There’s sort of an Elisabeth Kübler-Ross process of grieving that the SAG leadership is ultimately going to have to go through. They’re going to have to accept that their hope of a strike and the ultimate power is dead or dying, and there’s a phase of denial, bereavement, and eventually acceptance….

 “They’ve promised a lot to the membership,” he continued. “At the end of the day though, they’re going to have to adjust to reality, and then the parties will have to actually sit down and make a deal. That whole process of adjustment and then deal-making is going to take weeks. You wouldn’t see a deal at the earliest…until the end of July.”

At which time I think “the Allens” will need a Pick Me Up Bouquet and good dose of Dr. Seuss.

--Lauren Horwitch





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