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HomeColumnsUnion RoundupSAG and AFTRA Split the Blanket

SAG and AFTRA Split the Blanket

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And in the better-late-than-never department, we have Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa jumping in to avert a Hollywood strike!

Well, to be fair, it’s not quite “jumping in”—more like sober-minded meetings and the releasing of statements. And the mayor has also had his hands full with the imploding budgets of cities and states around the country, with the near-fatal combo—from a public-sector standpoint—of tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy at the federal level, with collapsing real estate values (and thus, collapsing property tax revenues) everywhere else. (Of course, if your ideology contains fear and loathing of all things public or community-wide, then such an agenda could be considered, alas, a success, but that’s a conversation for another day).

So the Mayor is wondering how not to close libraries or schools or parks. He even gave himself one of the “voluntary” non-paid days off he’s been encouraging city employees to take. And now he suddenly has to deal with the specter, astonishingly enough, of another Hollywood walkout!

At least on the above-the-line side. For BTLers, Tom Short is once again meeting with the holders-of-the-purse-strings to get a favorable contract for the IA membership. What makes this unusual—even by IA standards— is that their current contract doesn’t expire for another 16 months. In other words, the negotiations are starting at the midpoint of the current contract, as Short seeks to preserve his legacy of “reasonable” talks with reasonable results. Not a bad legacy, perhaps, given Hollywood’s recent labor upheavals, but a legacy, and an M.O. made all the easier since residuals aren’t on the table here.

One suspects the increasing costs of pensions and health plans will remain, however, and until the U.S. joins the rest of the civilized world in providing a basic health-care safety net. (Hint: ceasing hopeless wars in foreign lands frees up lots of lucre for said net.)

While the IA isn’t releasing any “deets of the meets,” to coin a phrase, or any statements, the Mayor noted that he’d met with the lead BTL labor org in the context of answering questions about current divorce among the two thesp unions.

And that particular divorce threatens to cause chaos among those who’d imagined a more stable relationship. Even among actors.

The always astute Michael Cieply had a nice recap of the situation in his New York Times report of the fracas: “A sudden split between two actors’ unions over the weekend added an unhappy twist to Hollywood’s troubled contract cycle: It appeared to weaken the labor organizations without making life easier for the studios they bargain with.”

And later in the same piece: “The actors’ current contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expires on June 30, and talks about a new contract were to have begun within two weeks. Now AFTRA (the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), the smaller of the two unions, says it plans to open talks with the producers on its own as quickly as possible. In a brief statement, the studios’ alliance said it welcomed the prospect.”

So there’s a bit of a mixed message there (as there always is after a divorce, and if I hit this metaphor too hard, it’s only because I’m one of Hollywood’s millions of divorced people myself, so it all makes a certain inexorable sense). It makes it easier for the producers, on the one hand, to face less cohesion in the forces they’re bargaining with (think of cops getting perps in separate rooms, or better yet, think of how the WGA was able to peel off company after company with side agreements) and yet, as reported previously in a BTL blog post on this same subject, Hollywood is still scrambling to catch up after the months-long non-idyllic idyll forced by the writers’ strike.

But they—the producing entities— are also scrambling because an actors’ strike hasn’t been entirely ruled out. And how can it, rhetorically? As previously noted in UR, the joint SAG/WGA strategy fell apart when the scribes went out last fall, instead of this June, which is when the actors’ contract expires.

So how can the “SAGs,” many of whose own members are just getting back to work, credibly stage a walkout? Yet, how can they negotiate, also credibly, with producers, if they rule it out?

Well, sure, there’s the Tom Short 50-percent rule: start negotiating when the current agreement is halfway done. But again, those don’t involve residuals. Among the issues for the actors are indeed those pesky residuals for, yes, DVDs.

As for the AFTRA/SAG imbroglio, it not only sounds like a soap opera, but was evidently sparked by one. Again, as per Cieply: “The weekend blowup occurred after leaders of the federation, which represents about 70,000 actors and others, learned that guild leaders, who represent about 120,000 actors, had met with cast members of the CBS soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful.”

It’s reminiscent of the IA/ WGA spat over who gets to rep animation writers, except those were never allied unions to begin with. SAG and AFTRA were siblings, sorta. But now—the divorce metaphor again!—they’re talking separate realities to the press. In the AFTRA statement:

“For the past year, SAG leadership in Hollywood has engaged in a relentless campaign of disinformation and disparagement, culminating in a recent attempt to decertify an AFTRA daytime soap opera. As a result of this continued and ongoing behavior by SAG leadership, which at its core harms all working performers and the labor movement, we find ourselves unable to have confidence in their ability to live up to the principles of partnership and union solidarity.”

And from SAG president Alan Rosenberg’s statement to members: “AFTRA leaders claim …SAG has undertaken a campaign to discredit them… Fact: AFTRA bargained cable deals at rates lower than SAG minimums and waived residuals. They fully admit this and are now getting backlash from members who are wondering where their residuals went. AFTRA must be accountable for granting these waivers to the contracts we have fought hard to achieve. Again, how is this problem SAG’s fault? Will they now go bargain these substandard contracts for primetime network/pay TV programs and lower the bar for all SAG actors in the process?”

In other words, SAG says, it has nothing to do with The Bold and the Beautiful at all.

Meanwhile, the economy has only gotten worse since the last strike.

Remind me again of why this is considered a glamorous biz?

See you next go-round. Write: [email protected]

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