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SAG Committee to Vote on Strike Authority; Passage Likely

Strikewatch_blog_3The committee negotiating SAG’s new television and film contract will meet Wednesday to vote on a measure seeking strike authorization from guild members, and the measure will probably pass, according to union sources with knowledge of the meeting.

A spokeswoman for the guild confirmed that the negotiating committee would meet but said she did not know the meeting’s agenda.

Membership First, the dominant political party in Hollywood that favors a hard-line stance toward producers, recently lost its majority status on the guild’s national board to a consortium of factions in Hollywood, New York, and the regional branches that favor a more moderate approach. However, Membership First still controls nine of the 13 votes on the negotiating committee, making the measure’s passage likely, if not certain. The negotiating committee was given the authority over the summer to seek strike authorization by the guild’s national executive committee.

Yesterday, guild national president Alan Rosenberg and national executive director Doug Allen sent a letter to three top executives—Disney’s Bob Iger, News Corp.’s Peter Chernin, and AMPTP president J. Nicholas Counter—asking to reopen negotiations, but that offer was rebuffed by Counter. On Tuesday, Allen issued a statement about Counter’s rejection: “We are disappointed to hear that the employers and their AMPTP representatives are refusing to engage in the process necessary to complete a deal. We do not believe that their rejection of our reasonable request is in the best interests of our members or the industry. Our National Negotiating Committee will be meeting later this week to consider management’s response.”

Several more steps would have to happen before a work stoppage would take effect, but one national board member said the fact that guild leaders would consider a strike while the national economy is foundering shows the desperate shape they are in after four and a half months of negotiations, which have yet to produce a deal.

“The only people that seem to be oblivious to the condition of the United States of America right now and the financial situation that we’re in are Doug Allen, Alan Rosenberg, and Membership First,” said the source. “The idea that we would be going on strike now is absurd in Fellini proportions.”

However, a member of the guild's board and a Membership First partisan said the economy will not factor into the guild's decision. "I’ve only been at this a little while," said the source, "but I’ve never heard a union, specifically the Screen Actors Guild, sitting down going, ‘Hmm, is this economically a sound time to go out on strike or not?’ If that were the case, I guess you’d hope that every contract year was a healthy economic year."

If the measure passes, a referendum would be sent to members; 75% would have to approve the authorization before the national board could call for a work stoppage. A simple majority of the board would then have to approve a strike. Although the new board will not be officially seated until the third week of October, it is doubtful that a referendum could be sent out to members and voted on before then.

It is also uncertain whether three-fourths of guild members would support a strike. Not only are many still recovering from the effects of the 100-day writers’ strike, which stretched from November to February, but film production across the country—which had been booming because of generous state tax incentives—has slowed in regions outside of Hollywood because of the stalled contract talks.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers issued its final offer to the guild June 30. SAG made a counteroffer that was rejected. Since then, Rosenberg and Allen have maintained that they have had informal, back-channel discussions with studio heads, but guild sources and sources close to producers say those conversations have not taken place.

--Andrew Salomon

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I think going after strike authorization is a good move for SAG. The AMPTP isn't buying the guild’s favorable polling card poll -- and say what you will, but the method in which it was conducted is questionable. Should SAG get authorization from its members, they'd have the indisputable back-up necessary to force the producers back to the table.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether SAG members will vote for authorization in the midst of this shitstorm of economic misery. I thought Anne-Marie Johnson made an interesting point in my Sept. 25 analysis on the subject: http://tinyurl.com/3fplpw

She said, “When is it a good time to strike?....When the economy is going well and more actors are working, are they inclined to want to strike? No one could ever provide supportive data stating actors strike when they're unemployed or actors don't strike when they are employed. There's just no proof to that.”

When I asked Johnson if she thought 75 percent of SAG members would grant strike authorization, she said, “I have no idea.”

Workers who aren't working could be more apt to strike -- an issue that always comes up with regards to SAG because the majority of its members don’t work as actors on a regular basis. If you're not working anyway, then spending a few weeks -- even months -- on strike will probably make little difference to your bank account or career. Plus, actors inclined to strike in this instance are more focused on the long-term affects of what they consider a bad residuals deal. They’re willing to suffer some now to save what could be thousands in future dollars.

But will that logic hold up when jobs in most industries are scare, loans are all but impossible to secure, and huge portions of 401Ks are going up in flames? I also wonder if SAG members feel any responsibility/empathy for other workers in the industry like their “below the line” colleagues who would once again loose thousands in another work stoppage? Do actors have any qualms about doing major economic damage to their “brothers and sisters” in IATSE, for example?

When I posed that question to Johnson, she had this to say [not included in the original article]:

“We don’t care…. If we hesitated to go on strike because other unions weren’t going to back us, no union would go out on strike, that’s certainly not what you base a strike on. A strike is your last effort to try to achieve a workable contract.”

“Do you think IATSE or the Teamsters take one minute to sit down and say, ‘Jeez, should we go on strike because look at all the people we’re going to put out [of] work?’ No union does…. Any union that sits down and worries about how this is going to impact other communities and we’re going to forego our only chance to get a workable contract because of that, then you’re not a workable union.”

Food for thought. What do you think?

I think most people wouldvote to strike. But to strike and get the crap deal that the writers got... unacceptable.

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