The seemingly never-ending SAG saga continues, with the possibility of a strike being called by the Screen Actors Guild at the end of January. The continuing uncertainty has caused productions to be put off, leading to lost working hours for craft guild members.
SAG leadership has officially announced it will be sending out ballots on January 2 to the guild’s members, asking them to authorize a strike. The results will be made public January 23. Approval by three-quarters of SAG’s 120,000 members is necessary in order to hand the union’s national board the strike weapon. It’s the board that must actually call for a strike.
The late January date could put a pall over the Oscars, scheduled for the end of February. On the other hand, if SAG membership doesn’t vote in large enough numbers to authorize a strike, that would put a definitive end to threat.
What happens, then, is anyone’s guess. SAG’s contract with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers ran out on June 30, and the union’s leadership could be vulnerable to calls for their removal due to a failed negotiating strategy.
Last week AMPTP chief Nick Counter sent a letter House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein along with other members of California’s congressional delegation, complaining about SAG’s call for a strike vote. “Now, astonishingly, SAG is demanding that working actors attempt to wipe away the consequences of SAG’s failed negotiating strategy by authorizing a strike,” Counter said. “This strike vote is remarkable because it comes at a time when prominent economists are saying that the current recession may turn out to be the longest and most painful downturn since the Great Depression.” Just what AMPTP expects California’s elected representatives to do in response to the gripe was unclear.
Meanwhile, SAG and AMPTP have continued to spar following the breakdown in talks after the intervention of a mediator that at least got both sides back to the table for a few days.
A new bone of contention involves the Writers Guild of America, which struck for 100 days last winter before a new contract agreement with AMPTP was reached. A complaint by the WGA in November that accused the conglomerates of not fulfilling their obligation under the contract to pay new media revenues was met with a harsh denunciation by AMPTP. The studios accused the writers of “blatantly” undermining the negotiations with SAG.
SAG leadership has pointed to the WGA claim as yet another reason to insist on their contract demands for internet and DVD residuals, which would be more generous than the contract settlement terms reached by other guilds, such as the Directors Guild of America, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, which also represents actors, and, most recently, the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees.
The WGA’s accusation, according to AMPTP, was “highly misleading and seems to have been designed to poison the atmosphere for the federal mediation rather than to actually ensure that residual payments are made to working writers.”
SAG president Alan Rosenberg, who had originally said ballots would be mailed out by the end of December, said the delay to January 2 was necessary to pursue an effort to convince members to authorize a possible strike.
“We will continue our comprehensive education campaign and urge our members to vote yes on the strike authorization,” said Rosenberg. “I am confident that members around the country will empower our negotiating team with the leverage and strength of unified Screen Actors Guild members. Our objective remains to get a deal that SAG members will ratify—not to go on strike.”