Striking for a few pennies?

Sad to say, that's what the current impasse between the Screen Actors Guild and the media companies amounts to. The dispute centers on new media payouts over the next few years. Weíre not talking big money, but showbiz lawyer Jonathan Handel blogs on the HuffPost that "SAG is convinced that these deficiencies in the deal will be the death of the union. They're also convinced that it will be impossible to fix these issues once the language is in the contract." Handel, who has written extensively on labor issues, says the unionís concern is understandable - "the home video (VHS / DVD / Blu-ray) formula, which is extremely unfavorable to actors, writers and directors, has been embedded in the union agreements for 24 years without change."

For an actual strike to be called, the National Board has to authorize one by a simple majority vote. The slightly more moderate faction (Unite for Strength plus NY and Regional Branch Division members) has a slim majority on the Board - probably only 1 or 2 votes (votes are weighted, so it's a little hard to tell the exact margin). However, they'll be under pressure: the hardliners (the Membership First faction) will say that the vote represents the will of the members. They'll also remind the moderates that there's another SAG Board election coming up in September. The moderates will be split on whether to stand in the way of a strike and be labeled Benedict Arnolds in the fall, because lack of a strike means that SAG will have to accept a deal that the hardliners consider odious.


A Membership First source tells me that the negotiating committee offered during mediation to nonetheless accept the proposed new media language, if the studios gave assurances that they'd revisit the language in 3 years (when the contract would next be up for renewal) and if the studios increased the home video formula. I haven't verified whether this claim is true, but if so, the studios should have offered some movement on this. On the other hand, the economy has dramatically worsened in the last 6-9 months. SAG should have made this offer when something might have come of it. Now, everyone may suffer.

Handel guesses that a strike authorization or even a strike itself could be in hand before the Golden Globes on Jan. 11. All of which suggests a strategy similar to that of the WGA last year. This time, however, the studios and networks might call the unionís bluff. Thereís a lot more to worry about these days than the actors boycotting the Golden Globes.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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