Screen Actors Guild and studios amp up the rhetoric war
With the collapse of mediation talks between the major studios and the Screen Actors Guild, the warring parties wasted little time launching campaigns aimed at discrediting each other while courting the sympathies of actors who will cast ballots in a strike referendum next month.
In a letter sent to the union's 120,000 members today, SAG President Alan Rosenberg blasted the major studios for seeking to impose "one-size-fits-all demands" on the union and accused management of using the depressed economy as an excuse to rebuff the needs of actors, especially when it comes to securing their future in the burgeoning world of online entertainment.
"It's also curious that these global corporations are preaching to us about the bad economy,'' Rosenberg said. "Like it's our fault. As middle-income actors we are the victims of corporate greed. We didn't cause this turmoil. Now, more than ever, we need to make a unified stand, in solidarity. … Our ability to make a living as professional actors for decades to come is at stake."
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of the studios, issued a swift rebuttal: "SAG's latest mass e-mail fails on three counts: It fails to explain why SAG deserves more than everyone else in the industry. It fails to justify why SAG members should bail out a failed negotiating strategy by striking during a time of historic economic crisis. And it fails to explain why it makes sense to strike when SAG members will lose more during the first few days of the strike than they could ever expect to gain."
The mass e-mails kicked off an informational campaign that the guild's negotiating committee overwhelmingly approved Saturday after a federal mediator declared the talks were over. The guild is expected to spend more than $100,000 on a campaign to muster support for the strike referendum, communicating through e-mails, mailouts, newsletters, town hall meetings and residual checks.
SAG launched a similar and unsuccessful campaign to defeat a contract negotiated by the smaller actors union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which has since secured a number of pilots for TV shows as producers look for a hedge against a possible strike by SAG. The 44,000 members who belong to both unions could be pivotal in determining the outcome of the strike vote.
The AMPTP has mounted its own campaign, aimed at portraying SAG's leaders as out of touch with economic reality and seeking better deals than five other unions that have signed agreements with the studios. They will get their message across through various advertisements and possible direct mailings to SAG members, sources close to the studios said.
Amid the conflicting claims, the ailing economy is certain to play a central role in the referendum, in which SAG members will be asked to give the union's board authority to call a strike "as a last resort."
Although Rosenberg did not specify when ballots would be sent, guild insiders said tit probably would be by mid-December. It would take 30 more days for ballots to be counted, meaning that the earliest SAG could strike would be in early January. The timing appears aimed at disrupting the Golden Globes and Academy Awards shows early next year. The board has final say over whether a walkout would occur.
In order to pass, a strike authorization requires approval of 75% of members who vote. Ordinarily, that would be a given. Union members typically approve such votes overwhelmingly as a show of solidarity to their union leadership and in the belief that the threat of strike can yield gains at the bargaining table. What's more, the vast majority of SAG's members do not earn their living through acting, so they have less to lose in the event of a shutdown in film and TV production.
On the other hand, those members who rely on other jobs to supplement their incomes also are more vulnerable to the broader economic downturn and could be less inclined to support a walkout.
— Richard Verrier