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Much Ado About Nothing


Call it much ado about nothing. Just about a year after their last contract expired, the Screen Actors Guild finally reached an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers last week, following an overwhelming vote by the membership to cut a deal. In the end, a faction-torn SAG membership basically capitulated to the studios, accepting terms they could have achieved last year.

The resolution of the protracted negotiations has the whole town breathing a bit easier, now that the chance of an actors’ strike has been eliminated for at least the next couple of years. A number of projects were being put on hold until a definitive settlement was reached. That hesitation spilled over into other Hollywood-related business at a time when the national, state and local economies have all hit the skids.

Though predictions had been for a close decision, the tally on the new contract was an overwhelming 78 percent in favor and 22 percent opposed, with about a third of SAG’s 110,00 members casting ballots. The terms of the two-year accord hardly differ from those offered by AMPTP last fall, which SAG’s bargaining team turned down.

In the interim, the actors’ guild split into warring factions over what strategy to pursue, leading to the ouster of SAG’s executive director and chief negotiator Doug Allen last January after a more moderate faction took control of SAG’s board.

It took several more months of bitter jousting and maneuvering to reach last week’s deal. The only concession SAG got from the studios was an agreement to sign a two-year pact expiring June 30, 2011 instead of the normal three years. This would put SAG back into the same negotiating cycle as the other guilds, which settled in 2008 on three-year agreements.

The results represent a major repudiation of SAG president Alan Rosenberg. He had backed Allen in his failed attempt to get a better deal for the actors than what other entertainment unions including the International Association of Theatrical & Stage Employees had accepted.

The cutting-edge issue was over residuals for actors when shows are shown on new-media platforms like the Internet and cell phones. Actors for the first time will get paid for such repurposing. In addition, there was an immediate 3 percent pay increase. The new media arrangement is in line with what other guilds accepted.

Screen Actors Guild interim national executive director David White said, “This decisive vote gets our members back to work with immediate pay raises and puts SAG in a strong position for the future.”

Rosenberg remained recalcitrant. “The membership has spoken and has decided to work under the terms of this contract that many of us, who have been involved in these negotiations from the beginning, believe to be devastatingly unsatisfactory,” he declared. Rosenberg has indicated he will be running for a third term as SAG president in the fall.

AMPTP was sanguine but circumspect: “The ratification vote by SAG members is good news for the entertainment industry. This concludes a two-year negotiating process that has resulted in agreements with all major Hollywood Guilds and Unions. We look forward to working with SAG members— and with everyone else in our industry—to emerge from today’s significant economic challenges with a strong and growing business.”

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