Friday, June 20, 2008

Actors may still strike

The prospects have become increasingly poor for an easy resolution of the contract negotiations between the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the producers group (AMPTP), which have reached their 35th day, and with current developments now look to last until at least mid-July. If the dispute is not resolved by late summer, the timely resumption of filming for Lost's Season 5 will be jeopardized.

Part of the problem is that SAG's sister union AFTRA has reached a tentative deal with the producers, a deal which now goes to vote with its general membership. The results won't be announced until July 8, more than a week after the June 30 expiration of the actors' contract. That also means SAG probably won't cut a deal before that announcement. More than 44000 actors hold cards in both unions, and SAG is lobbying heavily to have "their" actors vote no on the AFTRA deal: if the deal does not get a green light among its members, AFTRA may be forced to reluctantly rejoin SAG for joint bargaining for a better deal from the producers. It also means SAG is unlikely to go on strike before July 8. In fact, SAG has not yet made the significant leap of actually putting a strike authorization to vote among its members.

The producers are not staying still either. They have taken the extraordinary step to announce they will soon make the actors a "final offer", and offer which is likely to be made before June 30, and also likely to be ignored by SAG, at least until July 8 when they can evaluate their leverage after AFTRA's vote. However since the offer almost certainly will make no compromises on the various points SAG really wants, it looks like there will be a larger battle mid summer.

The next thing to watch for in the news is if SAG begins a strike authorization vote among its general membership, and whether or not it passes.

Read more at Variety.

(If you're just learning about this news, you can catch up with our summary here.)

July 2, 2008 Update: The contract has expired at the end of June 30 as expected. The actors have not struck, and the producers have not locked out the actors. Also as expected, the producers gave their "final offer" as promised, less than a day before the contract expired, an offer that reportedly made no movement on the main platforms of the actors. The rhetoric between SAG and AFTRA has been heating up regarding AFTRA's contract vote among its general membership, with big names such as Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson, George Clooney recently offering their various opinions. About half of AFTRA members also are in SAG, and SAG has been campaigning for these dual card holders to vote down the contract. The entire industry is still awaiting these results, which should be known early next week on July 8. The vote may be used by SAG to help guess if its own members have the will to pass a strike authorization. If the AFTRA contract vote passes, SAG will find itself without enough support among actors for its views, and may be forced to compromise with the producers. If the AFTRA vote fails however, SAG will have more leverage with the producers with a now-realistic option to strike in its bargaining arsenal. Stay tuned for July 8.

July 9, 2008 update: It was announced yesterday that AFTRA members ratified the contract. SAG is perceived to have less leverage now, although they are spinning the story to point out that the ratification percentage was unusually low (62.4% rather than >90%), and the vote included members of AFTRA who are not actors. No one knows how the news will play out, but now the ball is in SAG's court to comment on the AMPTP's "final offer", which we may hear in two days on Thursday, when talks resume. Read more at Variety here, and also read their commentary here explaining how the timing of the Writer's strike affected SAG, back when the industry was wondering if the writers would wait until now to strike simultaneously with the actors.
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