SAG Tries to Mend Fences

LOS ANGELES With 15 days left before the Screen Actors Guild contract with producers expires, the union’s national negotiating committee pushed a message of unity in an effort to temper the divisiveness that has erupted in its battle against the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and its newly brokered prime-time TV deal.

“We are united and committed to working together in achieving the best possible contract for the benefit of all actors,” the committee stated. “We pledge to stand together, united, not allowing ourselves to be distracted from our crucial and singular mission by anyone. No matter what the distraction or from where it may come, this committee will continue to stand firm to achieve the best contract possible.”

The message outlines the priorities for bargaining, including increases for middle-class actors and more DVD residuals. It came one day after SAG’s New York board, as well as members of both SAG and AFTRA in Chicago, publicly rejected the union’s campaign against the AFTRA contract.

“I’m assuming that they’re finally saying, ‘We hear you and there will be no more anti-AFTRA, no more anti-anything and we’re going to work on a SAG contract,’ ” said New York board member and former 2nd national vp Paul Christie. “New York members choose to believe that come Monday, they will sit down at the table and focus solely on what we’re trying to get for guild members,” he added.

SAG will resume negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers Monday morning at 10 a.m.

AFTRA has started its own “Vote Yes” campaign, posting over the weekend a video of AFTRA leaders discussing the terms of the new contract. The performers union also sent members an e-mail that included a broad outline of the new deal and featured photos of members, including Sally Field, Jane Curtin and James Cromwell, indicating, “We’re voting yes on the AFTRA prime-time TV contract!”

AFTRA and the AMPTP reached a deal on May 28. Members are expected to receive details of the contract and a ratification ballot sometime this week. The union expects to have the results of the vote by July 7.

SAG has 120,000 members while AFTRA has 70,000. The unions share 44,000 members.

Friday marked SAG’s 30th day of negotiations with the AMPTP. During those 30 days, talks between the two were suspended while the AMPTP negotiated with AFTRA. SAG came back to the bargaining table on May 28 and has since publicly attacked AFTRA’s deal, promising its dual cardholders that SAG can get a better contract.

The AMPTP had kept out of the fray until last Thursday, when it publicly issued an update of the negotiations to its members. The AMPTP called SAG’s campaign against AFTRA a “distraction” from the negotiations at hand. The studios also took issue with SAG’s contentions that a deal won’t be done until after the contract’s June 30 deadline.

 ”We remain committed to making a fair and reasonable agreement before the June 30th deadline and are pushing ahead despite the rallies, meetings and events to which SAG’s Hollywood leadership has recently devoted considerable time and energy (often during hours that are usually reserved for negotiations),” the AMPTP stated. “Unfortunately, these side-shows — distractions which SAG’s Hollywood leaders appear committed to perpetuating — will not help our industry reach our fifth 2008 labor agreement by June 30.”

 SAG represents 90 percent of the scripted prime-time network and pay TV series and 100 percent of films.

In response to the AMPTP, the union said it has made “significant moves in the AMPTP’s direction on a number of proposals. The limited progress the AMPTP referred to in its recent statement is largely because management has not made an equally dedicated effort to achieving progress.

“Negotiations are about give and take and thus far it has primarily been SAG’s negotiating committee giving,” SAG stated.