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SAG opposes smaller union’s studio deal

Screen Actors Guild leaders urged members of a smaller actors union to reject a proposed contract deal with Hollywood studios, saying they believe a better deal could be had.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Screen Actors Guild leaders on Monday urged members of a smaller actors union to reject a proposed contract deal with Hollywood studios, saying they believe a better deal could be had.

The plea came at a rally staged as the guild continued its own contract talks with the studios.

SAG previously asked the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists to delay a membership vote on its proposed deal, but AFTRA refused.

SAG has said a delay would help it gain leverage and negotiate a better deal on issues including new media, DVD compensation and even mileage reimbursement. Those gains were not achieved in the proposed AFTRA contract, SAG said.

About 44,000 actors belong to both unions.

At the rally, SAG President Alan Rosenberg said it was “essential to vote down that AFTRA deal.”

“We are engaged in the battle of our lives,” Rosenberg said. “AFTRA has abandoned us to make their own deal.”

AFTRA spokeswoman Kelly Mullens said it was unfortunate that SAG was focusing on its sister union instead of its own talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

“For them to suggest that submitting this new agreement to AFTRA’s membership for ratification somehow interferes with their current negotiations is nothing short of ludicrous,” Mullens said. “It is our hope that SAG members will encourage their leadership to devote its energy to negotiating their own agreement with the (studios), rather than trying to undermine ours.”

‘Vote no’Several hundred people attended the rally, toting signs and chanting “vote no.”

The tentative three-year agreement to be considered by AFTRA members later this month establishes higher fees for downloaded content and residual payments for ad-supported streams and clips. It also calls for increased base pay as well as improved health and retirement benefits.

SAG officials believe AFTRA’s deal compromises SAG’s negotiations and puts lower-paid actors at a disadvantage. Rosenberg pointed out that SAG negotiators have already made “incredibly painful compromises.” He declined to elaborate.

SAG Executive Director Doug Allen told The Associated Press, “What we’re trying to do right now is get the best possible contract we can. This rally is to remind each other what our priorities are. We aren’t done yet.”

Asked about the possibility of a strike, Allen replied that the focus now is on reaching a contract agreement. SAG has not asked its members for a strike authorization vote. The current contract is set to expire on June 30.

‘High-risk strategy’SAG’s stance on the AFTRA contract prompted the smaller union to warn that it might pursue legal remedies if SAG tried to “undermine or interfere with our ratification process.”

Trying to derail AFTRA’s deal is a “high-risk strategy, because it’s an uphill battle to persuade members to vote against a deal that their leadership recommends,” said entertainment lawyer Jonathan Handel, a former Writers Guild of America associate counsel.

“SAG loses an enormous amount of leverage if the campaign fails. But if it succeeds, they gain a lot of power at the negotiating table,” he said.

Patrick Cavanaugh, 30, who belongs to both unions and does voice-over work in commercials and animation, said after the rally he’s disappointed that the two unions are at odds.

“That’s exactly what the producers want,” Cavanaugh said.

He called the AFTRA deal “pretty pathetic” and said he planned to vote against it.

“There’s nothing in the deal that stands out,” he said, lamenting the lack of gains for middle-class actors.

Former SAG president and Emmy-winning actor Ed Asner also said he would vote against the agreement, contending AFTRA has tried to destroy the solidarity between unions.

“Every principle, everything we stand for is being chipped away by AFTRA,” Asner said.

SAG’s talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers entered their 25th day Monday.

AFTRA has about 70,000 members, including actors, singers, announcers and journalists. The Screen Actors Guild has about 120,000 members in movies, TV and other media.

Both AFTRA and SAG have said they want to avoid a repeat of the 100-day writers strike that ended in February. That walkout shut down production on dozens of TV shows and cost the Los Angeles-area economy an estimated $2.5 billion.