SAG’s Endgame Still a Mystery

LOS ANGELES He’s back. Juan Carlos Gonzalez, the federal mediator brought in by the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers last year before the writers strike, may soon play a similar role in the standoff between the studios and the Screen Actors Guild.

This time, SAG made the request, and lawyers for the various production companies and AMPTP members have met to consider the request — but issued no decision.

There are bigger questions hanging over the stalemate, however, such as: Do SAG’s leaders really think the mediator is going to break the logjam? The resolution the guild’s executive board passed Sunday gives the go-ahead for its bargaining panel to go to the membership for strike authorization if mediation fails.

SAG president Alan Rosenberg — who strongly opposed calling in a mediator when the possibility was raised by union board members in August, then argued against it over the weekend — has gone silent, other than releasing a statement Sunday that said the union hopes mediation would “move the process forward.”

SAG chief negotiator Doug Allen is now busy in San Francisco in a high-stakes trial over marketing money between the NFL and his former employer, the NFL Players Association. (Rosenberg declined to comment for this story.)

The mediator ploy could simply be a case of SAG exhausting every possible route to a solution — or it could be a way to avoid a potentially embarrassing rejection of fighting on by the membership.

Perhaps most ominously, bringing in a mediator could shift the timing of a potential strike to Oscar season, when its impact would be most severe.

“I do think the SAG membership would be easily galvanized,” one member said. “SAG members do not want to take the deal on the table.”

Optimists hoping Gonzalez or any other mediator can do anything don’t have much to base their hopes on. A licensed attorney, Gonzalez has meager experience in the entertainment industry and was less than effective in the WGA-AMPTP negotiations.

“The new-media residuals issues are extremely complicated,” Loeb & Loeb industry labor lawyer Ivy Kagan Bierman said. “I just don’t think someone outside the industry with little or no experience dealing with these types of issues is going to be all that useful.”

There is some thought that just having Gonzalez in the room may be enough to melt the ice between the actors union and the studios.

“It’s more a symbolic gesture than anything else,” one national board member said. “You would hope that when the mediator gets in the room there are enough level heads in there who will say, ‘This is the last shot we have.’ “

But Kagan Bierman isn’t sure it’s the right approach for the union.

“I don’t think following the same approach as the WGA is necessarily going to be productive in this situation,” she said. “I think the better approach would be to call upon the services of someone with knowledge and experience in the entertainment industry that is respected by both sides.”

Gonzalez did preside over a few WGA negotiations meetings. But when the writers called their strike in the beginning of November and then agreed to return to the bargaining table later that month, it wasn’t the mediator in the room trying to get the sides together: It was CAA’s Bryan Lourd. Disney’s Bob Iger and News Corp.’s Peter Chernin also took turns facilitating meetings between the WGA and AMPTP.