Monday, November 24, 2008

The #1 Topic of Conversation

Everywhere I've gone the last few days, the Big Question is:

"So ... Is SAG going on strike?"

I'm asked this because I'm a union rep, and therefore (supposedly) knowledgable on the subject. But what I know about the internal workings and political dynamics of the Screen Actors Guild is next to nothing.

What I do know is that a second strike will do serious damage to everybody else who works in the entertainment business. Grips, cinematographers, editors, makeup artists and costume designers, animators, sound technicians, and all the rest.

Now, I get that SAG President Alan Rosenberg ... and no doubt a lot of other SAG members ... don't like the deal that other labor organizations hav made with the AMPTP. It's understandable that SAG isn't crazy about various aspects of the "last, best and final offer" now on its plate, because truth to tell, there are sections in the freshly negotiated IATSE deal with the Alliance that the IA reps were less than totally enthusiastic about.

But hey. Nobody ever negotiates the ideal, but merely the possible. The template for New Media was in place before the International and its guilds and unions sat down in the big AMPTP meeting room, forged by the DGA, WGA, and AFTRA over the previous ten months. Some of it was good, some not good, but all of us knew we had to hammer out something that lived inside that model ... and live with it. And live to come back and negotiate a new template another day.

SAG, however, seems hell-bent on moving down a more militant road. Mr. Rosenberg says that a strike vote doesn't necessarily mean a strike, but we heard this refrain twelve months ago from the Presidents of the WGA, and the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan now has four million fewer contribution hours in it than without the writers' job action. And trust me, it impacted where our November 2008 deal ended up, because everything, and I mean everything, is interconnected.

Which brings us to now. There's a strong chance that the Screen Actors Guild will go out in a couple of months time. The trades say it will mainly impact prime-time television, but that's nonsense. A SAG strike will stop television, theatrical films, and voice recording for animation. If it last long enough, like three or more months, it will destroy livelihoods, trigger bankruptcies, cause idustry workers to lose their homes.

If SAG was the first labor union out of the negotiation box, a strike -- however bad the ultimate result might be -- would at least make some sort of sense. But SAG is now the last guild up to bat, and so is saddled by the contract points already negotiated. Worse, it's saddled with the deal made by the actors union with which it refused to merge (and thereby control) not once but twice.

And now SAG is on the brink of piling more stupidity on its earlier idiocies. The Directors Guild spent two million dollars to learn that New Media remains embryonic, and the money to be made there is still paltry. This might be different in three years, which is why most unions' New Media agreements sunset in three years and almost everyone starts over.

None of this, however, is good enough for SAG. The guild will continue its brinkmanship strategy and go after strike authorization. Despite Rosenberg's softer cooing noises, I think the odds are high that the Screen Actors Guild will hit the bricks. Once it does, several things will happen:

1) IATSE member won't be joining SAG picketers in solidarity. They will most likely be hurling tomatoes from passing cars.

2) Producers will accelerate the shift from film to digital chips and tape. And AFTRA, which has a jurisdiction in digital, will get a surge of new signators.

3) The entertainment conglomerates will endure whatever small flesh wounds they receive and ultimately laugh all the way to the bank.

4) Lots of film workers will cry all the way to bankruptcy court.

Let us pray that this sad script doesn't play out the way I've described it. Because the last thing the movie industry needs as the economy melts down is a long, debilitating job action.


Anonymous said...

Times of recession are for holding your ground, not looking to make gains. If SAG is selfish enough to strike, I wish them nothing but ill will and failure.

Anonymous said...


I hope all studios go to hiring nonunion actors immediately. There are plenty of them in this town. Hell, I'm eager to go to some auditions myself because I never was inclined to pay the $1,234.00 to get a SAG card.

Anonymous said...

Rosenberg calls himself middle class. Isn't this the same sort of lack of reality that we've had to endure with George W. and Wall Street for the last eight years? Unbelievable that this joker calls himself labor. Un-f'ing-believable. The guy hasn't pulled an honest days wages in his entire life. Membership first? More like SAG first, true labor LAST.

Anonymous said...

Companies don't have to hire non-union actors in the event of a SAG strike.

There's a perfectly legitimate actors' union out there whose members would be glad to have the work. (Their union shall remain anonymous, but the acronym has five letters and begins and ends in a vowel.)

Considering what a wonderful job SAG has been doing organizing animation voice-over actors, that other union might even end up with the jurisdiction.

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