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SAG-NY Launches Uprising; AMPTP Plays to Pols

Strikewatch_blogAnd so it begins.

The pushback against SAG's move for strike authorization started in earnest today, when the guild's New York board kick-started a regional uprising that, among other things, called for the referendum efforts to stop and for the negotiating committee be replaced.

A source familiar with the New York effort said other regional boards would be sending similar letters by the end of the day Saturday. Logical guesses are Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Nashville, Portland, and Seattle, but the source could not say for certain.

Additionally, the AMPTP has sent a letter to elected officials in four states, including New York and California, asking them to look at the offer it has made to the guild. Implicit in the letter is a request for support of the producers' position.

Also, a Hollywood-based member of the guild, Keri Tombazian, began a vote-no website called www.SAGDecision.com.

That the New York board would openly oppose official SAG policy and strategy is not new. When guild leaders tried to stop ratification of AFTRA's prime-time broadcast TV contract this summer, the New York board condemned it, as did the boards from Chicago and San Francisco.

The AMPTP is also focusing its effort regionally. By sending a letter to elected officials in New York, Illinois, and Michigan, the television and movie producers are targeting states with generous tax-incentive programs, which some state legislators may have stuck their necks out for. The argument for the incentives is that they can generate more money than they cost. With the economy faltering, voters may not take kindly to what could be seen as tax breaks for wealthy companies--particularly if the cameras aren't rolling and job losses mount.

Jesse Hiestand, a spokesman for the AMPTP, said producers worked in conjunction with the MPAA, which identified those states where job losses would be the greatest. He added that the AMPTP could send out another wave of letters to other states. Likely candidates include Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas. 

Tombazian's website is standard fare, with blog postings and links to articles about the negotiations. It also includes five reasons why actors should vote against the authorization. Chief among them, she says, is that a strike will inevitably follow a successful authorization.

“Strike authorization, in this case, is a misnomer,” she said. “It is a vote for strike.”

SAG leaders have objected to that characterization. “It may be nice for those who oppose strike authorization to spin and distribute [that notion] because it encourages fear, but it is not true,” said Anne-Marie Johnson, SAG’s 1st vice president and spokeswoman for Membership First, the one-time majority party that still controls the negotiating committee. “Strike authorization is to inform the CEOs that our union is prepared to do whatever it takes ... to get the CEOs to the negotiating table. If that fails, if the CEOs believe they can continue strong-arming unions without negotiating in good faith, then that information goes back to the national board for vetting. The ultimate decision is made by the national board. And I don’t have to remind anybody about the moderate makeup of the national board.”

Membership First holds 35 of 55 seats in the Hollywood Division of SAG and once held a small majority on the national board. After the September elections, Unite for Strength, a Hollywood-based group that favors merger with AFTRA, joined with board members in the New York and Regional Branch divisions to give moderates a slim majority.

MFstill has 9 of 13 seats on the negotiating committee, which is why New York and the regionals are calling for its dissolution. (Not very likely, nor are the other two bullet points on the letter: For Alan Rosenberg to call an emergency board meeting, and that the AMPTP be encouraged, "in the strongest language possible," to resume negotiating.)

The statement isn't about those things anyway. It's about finding enough votes to stop SAG from getting strike authority. The board needs 75 percent of members who vote to pass the measure. Opponents hope the concerted effort from all corners of the country will get them at least 25 percent plus 1.

Paul Christie, a national board member from New York and former 2nd SAG VP, defended the pushback. "Not only is this the right move to make for our members," he said, "we also feel we have an absolute obligation to our other union brothers and sisters to help them keep their jobs and keep them working."

But Johnson says such efforts will only harm the guild, in the immedate and long term. "Not obtaining a strike authorization without question weakens the Screen Actors Guild," she said, "not only in this contract, but in every single contract to follow. I fear that maybe the hidden agenda of those who want to weaken the Screen Actors Guild is to weaken it to such a point that a hasty merger with AFTRA is inevitable. If we don’t achieve a strike authorization in this contract, we will not achieve strike authorization in the commercial negotiations, the basic-cable negotiations, or any other contract that follows. I just hope that those who are choosing to deny the SAG its leverage understand the ramifications for every future contract this union has to negotiate."

--Andrew Salomon

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Missing from New York's recommendations is how a change in the negotiating committee could possibly extract any better a deal from the AMPTP than the current committee. The AMPTP has been entirely intransigent. Rearranging our chairs won't impress them one bit.

The one and only thing that will get the AMPTP's attention is a vote in favor of a strike authorization. They have already shown they have no interest in listening to anything or anyone else. Nick Counter's negotiating mentor is Josef Stalin - "What's mine is mine, what's yours is negotiable".

A bully like that deserves a punch in the nose. A SAG strike can most definitely rearrange the AMPTP's proboscis. Perhaps once the moguls are bleeding red ink because they suddenly don't have the one thing they truly need to make money - actors - they will see reason and chuck their "last best final" garbage offer full of rollbacks in favor of something with a bit less stench - and that offers comparable rules, residuals, and terms for new media as SAG has for traditional media.

It is also quite fair to note that, while most blogs like this one, DHD, and my own have comments sections, Keri Tombazian's does not. If she wishes to be taken seriously, she should fix this. Pronto.

On a more general level, why is that the town far-better known for its take-no-guff attitude - New York - is so much more ready to roll over and play dead for the moguls than laid-back Los Angeles???

Michael Heister. You sure post a lot for someone with only two credits. This Strike you support will obviously not affect your own income. Leave this vote to the working actors.

You have made a very uninformed post. Have you ever checked out the credits of the New York Branch Board? The president of that board has zero credits. The average SAG "background actor" in Hollywood, who has been working a couple of years, has more acting credits, than the average SAG "actor" in New York.

There are many areas under SAG's jurisdiction that don't generally get IMDB credits, i.e. TV stunts, dancers, singers, commercials actors, pilots, background actors, stand-ins, etc. All of the performers in these areas of SAG jurisdiction, have a vote equal in weight to Tom Hanks and George Clooney

NY is the the one who is ready to stand tough and face the real bullies Allen and Alan...

they (NY Board) are not stupid and they are not without acting credits...did you ever hear of theatre? or does thinking give you a headache?

let's face it LA you've been sold a bill of goods and it's time for us to put on our big boy pants and get a deal. A deal that has been so screwed up by the LA memberfst and their cronies that we will be paying for their mistakes for years to come. sounds familiar? maybe a past US president comes to mind?

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