Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Old Squeeze Play

The AMPTP's new home. Funny, but it doesn't look like a baseball diamond.

A couple of weeks back, SAG and AFTRA were marching as one negotiating entity -- just as they've done for decades -- and it looked like later ... rather than earlier ... negotiations with the AMPTP were preordained.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the conference table at the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. SAG and AFTRA went through an ugly separation, and my how times (and well-laid plans) do change:

Less than 24 hours after the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) announced it would begin negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers (AMPTP) on April 15, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) said it will enter talks of its own with the conglomerates on April 28. The decision to schedule separate talks comes after a particularly ugly weekend of finger-pointing between the two unions, which led to AFTRA's decision to effectively divorce SAG ...

I thought AFTRA would charge into negotiations first, but I was wrong.

AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon said on Wednesday: "AFTRA has decided to let SAG go first because we feel it is in all of our interests for SAG to maintain its momentum and because we want to give the guild a reasonable opportunity to meet with the AMPTP ...

This sounds all sisterly and high-minded, but don't anybody kid themselves. SAG starts negotiations with the AMPTP in mid-April; two weeks later, AFTRA gets its turn at the Alliance's shiny new headquarters in the Sherman Oaks Galleria. What happens if SAG still has issues when its alloted time runs out?

I'll tell you. The AMPTP will smile and say, "So sorry, but we have to go talk to AFTRA now, catch you later." And then the Alliance of Motion Picture and Teleivsion Producers will negotiate with AFTRA, and most likely reach an agreement with AFTRA.

And SAG, despite any screams and wails that "they can't live with!!" Provision D or Provision F, will have to live with them, because the DGA, WGA, IATSE, and AFTRA will have already gone before them, and (by then) the mold (made of high-strength stainless steel) will have been set. And SAG -- like it or not -- will get the same party platter as everyone else.

The AMPTP, you see, has set up a squeeze play. SAG can strike, but SAG will be undercut by the cold reality that every other labor organization is on board with the basic deal. And the Alliance will be uninterested in changing it in any significant way for the Screen Actors Guild. Plus, AFTRA won't be lending a helping hand by delaying its talks. As AFTRA's Roberta Reardon says:

"... we cannot abdicate our responsibility to our own members to engage with the employers in a strong, deliberate, and timely manner so we can negotiate the best possible agreement for primetime performers."

So unless I miss my guess, SAG will have its work cut out for it. Because the guild will be running like hell as it's chased down by second baseman Nick Counter, shortstop Robert Iger and pitcher Peter Chernin.


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