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SAG-AMPTP Talks Still Ongoing?


Strikewatch_blogSAG national executive director Doug Allen sent an email  to members over the weekend that indicated A) informal negotiations might take place before too long and B) DVDs might be off the table. So reports Dave McNary in Variety and Jonathan Handel on his Digital Media Law blog.

For about a month, the official line from the AMPTP has been that its offer is final and no new negotiations are taking place. In a statement released Monday afternoon, the producers said: "The AMPTP is always interested in exploring ways to reach an agreement, and if SAG has an approach that's consistent with the parameters of our June 30 final offer then we are open to hearing that. SAG's negotiators have not discussed with us any plan to reach an agreement and the only meeting the parties are attempting to schedule is one to resolve some outstanding grievance claims. No meetings, formal or informal, regarding these negotiations have taken place since the sidebar SAG requested on July 16th, and no meetings are pending."

The grievance claims to which the AMPTP refers probably involve the force majeure clause in SAG's current contract. Under the clause, actors are entitled to some compensation if production shuts down due to a greater force beyond the producers' control, such as an earthquake or a  strike by another union. Because force majeure is an outstanding issue for the guild in these talks--the L.A. Times reported a while back that the guild has $10 million in outstanding force majeure claims from the writers strike--Allen is probably not being inaccurate when he says informal discussions between the two sides could soon take place. Likewise, the producers are not inaccurate when they indicate this is a side issue not directly related to their final offer.

Meanwhile, it might be in Allen's best interest to send a message to the rank and file that a more conciliatory (though not compliant) posture has taken root within SAG leadership. For example, in the first paragraph of Allen's email, he alludes to the new-found common ground between the guild's adversary factions--Hollywood Division on one side, New York and Regional Branch divisions on the other: "We have not yet closed the gap with the employers’ negotiators, but National President Alan Rosenberg, the National Negotiating Committee co-chairs from the Regional Branch Division, New York and Hollywood and I remain focused on this effort."

Ruling party Membership First, which has been solidly behind Allen, could face a formidable challenge in the national board elections from Unite for Strength, which has contended that the guild's hard-line strategy against producers, AFTRA, and the guild's New York and Regional Branch divisions has been a failure. If Membership First finds itself in the minority after election results are announced in mid-September, Allen could find himself out of a job.

Speaking of SAG infighting, The New York Times today has a story on the longstanding rift within the guild and the upcoming national board elections. (The article doesn't offer much that's new, but there is a quote from Alan Rosenberg that ends in an exclamation point [!]. How 'bout that: The Gray Lady has allowed a whiff of stridency to waft onto her pages.)

The Times discusses the elections within the framework of the stalled contract negotiations. Back Stage, however, has an analysis this week theorizing that this year's campaign will be decided by a much larger issue. Copies hit newsstands on the West Coast on Wednesday, the East Coast on Thursday.

--Andrew Salomon

P.S.: Based on the time stamp of Handel's email to us (2:25 a.m. Eastern/11:25 Pacific p.m.) and the Variety report (7:17 a.m. Eastern/4:17 a.m. Pacific), it appears that the blogger beat the reporter by almost five hours. If that is the case, harumph. We don't like new media anymore; we prefer the olden days of media-elite hegemony, when lawyers knew their place.

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"If Membership First finds itself in the minority after election results are announced in mid-September, Allen could find himself out of a job."

Since these guys hounded Bob Pisano out and fired Greg Hessinger after only a few months on the job, dumping Allen would indicate that the SAG N.E.D. spot is more volatile than running a major studio -- and it's costing SAG literally millions of dollars to support this habit (not to mention making it nigh-impossible to recruit qualified candidates for the job).

What a way to run a railroad.


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