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“Did AFTRA screw SAG? Did SAG screw itself? Not that it matters”


Some very interesting blog reading here…

Did AFTRA screw SAG? Did SAG screw itself? Not that it matters

Late last year, when the writers’ strike against the Hollywood studios had just started, I was talking on the record with my friend vantageand WGA member Mark Evanier, of the amazing blog, and this veteran of at least five WGA work stoppages explained to me the labor chess played so expertly by AMPTP, the negotiating arm of the moguls.

As Mark saw it, first what the AMPTP would do is negotiate with the directors’ guild, the richest and least strike-prone of the industry unions. Was there a sticking point that year? If the answer was “no,” then the DGA and AMPTP would quickly sign a new long-term agreement and the other unions would, more or less, fall in line behind that example. OK — but what if DGA really wanted something not currently in their agreement? This is the interesting part: More often than not, in Mark’s view, the DGA would ask for something that benefited the directors but not the actors or writers so much. In exchange, the AMPTP would demand a concession that wasn’t really a concession for the DGA but could be used to extract real money from the other unions. For instance, the DGA once restructured the work week in a way that barely affected directors (who are 24/7 when helming a project anyway) but greatly reduced overtime pay for a certain class of extras once the AMPTP signed a new deal with AFTRA based on the irresistible logic that “hey, the directors thought it was a fair deal — what’s your problem?”

If you’re a director reading this, and Mark’s view of the world is not yours, sorry. My point is the mindset that it has engendered in most people who carry union cards in Hollywood, namely the writers and actors. Mark thought that sooner or later, the same thing would happen with the writers’ strike. Somehow, some way, the AMPTP would figure out how, as Mark put it, “to use DGA to screw the other unions.” To the surprise of many (not least the moguls), though, that didn’t happen. The AMPTP’s bad faith and mulish refusal to negotiate what should’ve been deal points in the 1990s turned all of Hollywood against them.

I had a talk last night with Jonathan Handel, the entertainment attorney and prolific blogger who cut his teeth at the WGA during the round-robin negotiations of old. Jonathan has made it clear that when it comes to the current deal — essentially one that DGA made, playing the good cop to WGA’s bad cop — he thinks SAG needs to take the deal and move on.

“What SAG wanted to do was not unreasonable,” Handel said — but he added that if SAG really wanted to lay the groundwork for challenging the moguls, they needed to start “years ago.” Instead, as Nikki Finke has reported, a top SAG official more or less dropped the bomb on his counterpart at the studios by telling him that the the union had issues that were not covered by the WGA deal.

Talks stalled. And then, the AMPTP called up AFTRA and put them on the clock. Voila, the weaker sister agreed to the deal on the table, essentially the WGA deal for actors. Finally, the moguls in were the driver’s seat, the position that a lot of people, including Mark, assumed it would eventually take over in its talks with the writers.

More, good citizens, at the link…

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