Possibility of Actors Strike Casts a Giant Shadow

Jun 29, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Hollywood is once again holding its breath.
With the 100-day writers walkout still fresh in the town’s collective memory, TV networks and studios are trying to come to terms with the fact that the Screen Actors Guild contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers expires June 30—and there’s no sign that a deal is anywhere close to being done.
Most of the town is looking ahead to July 8, when the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists will reveal whether its members have approved the deal AFTRA leadership struck with the AMPTP on May 28. If AFTRA members overwhelmingly OK the pact, that might make it harder for SAG leadership to convince guild members to authorize a strike.
SAG President Alan Rosenberg tried to downplay talk that a strike could be imminent.
“We have taken no steps to initiate a strike authorization vote by the members of Screen Actors Guild,” Mr. Rosenberg said in a statement issued Sunday, following two days of weekend negotiations. “Any talk about a strike or a management lockout at this point is simply a distraction. The Screen Actors Guild national negotiating committee is coming to the bargaining table every day in good faith to negotiate a fair contract for actors.”
Fear of a walkout already has dramatically slowed production on motion picture projects, with studios long ago deciding not to greenlight films that couldn’t be essentially wrapped before the June 30 contract expiration date.
The impact on television is far less severe and limited mostly to cable production. An HBO representative, for example, confirmed that production has been delayed on the second season of “Tell Me You Love Me” and the David Milch/Bill Clark pilot “Last of the Ninth.”
“We have pushed both out of the summer in part due to [a] possible SAG strike,” the rep said.
Most network shows, however, remain in pre-production and are gearing up for their usual production start dates in mid to late July.
What’s more, several network series—including “24,” “Chuck” and “Heroes”—already are back in production. Fallout from the Writers Guild of America strike led several shows to start filming early for next season.
There also had been concern that the threat of a strike could once again torpedo the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour, the summer edition of which is scheduled to begin July 8. The winter edition of the event was canceled after the writers walked out.
But the current thinking among network TV types is that the tour is probably safe. That’s because SAG hasn’t yet called for a strike authorization vote, and even if it did, the process of organizing and tallying a vote would take about three weeks.
Unless SAG calls for a strike vote within the next few days, the TCA tour likely would be over before a strike could begin.
It’s also possible actors could simply choose not to do any publicity once the SAG contract expires, even if there’s no formal strike. That could negatively affect the press tour as well as Comic-Con, which begins July 24 in San Diego.
One other remote possibility: Studios could choose to lock out actors, immediately shutting down production on most film and TV projects.
“But I don’t see that happening,” said one top network executive familiar with the studios’ current thinking.
Instead, many observers are expecting the AMPTP to issue a last, best and final offer to SAG, perhaps within days—a move first reported by Daily Variety last week.
Progress on any level, however, is considered a long shot until just before or just after the AFTRA ratification results are announced, according to conversations with executives at networks, TV studios and talent agencies.
“Right now, it seems SAG is completely focused on trying to torpedo AFTRA’s ratification vote,” one network executive familiar with the tone of the talks said. “The talks haven’t been progressing.”
SAG leaders have had to deal with a slew of high-profile actors breaking from the party line by urging AFTRA voters to approve their deal.
Among those who’ve lent their support to the AFTRA deal: Tom Hanks, Sally Field, Alec Baldwin and Kevin Spacey. SAG members speaking out against the pact include Jack Nicholson and Martin Sheen.
Even if SAG’s leadership ultimately decides to seek a strike vote—and so far, the guild has indicated it has no plans to do so—getting approval could be tough. That’s because the union needs 75% of its membership onboard to OK a walkout.
“I don’t see a scenario where that could happen,” said one top talent agent. “People are still very much suffering from the writers strike.”
Still, the same agent said it “makes sense to be worried” about a possible strike. The level of distrust between the unions and the AMPTP is so high, all possible scenarios need to be considered, he said.
That includes what one studio executive calls the “dirty tricks” option.
Rather than going on strike, the executive fears SAG will “play dirty and try to do slowdowns and other unlawful things” in order to disrupt production.
“I don’t think the studios would take kindly to them doing that,” the executive said. “It could quickly turn into a legal thing.”
There’s no evidence to suggest SAG leaders have any intention of implementing such a strategy, however.
As for AFTRA’s deal, the organization’s leadership has made it clear to members that rejecting the deal on the table would be the equivalent of going on strike.
“The notion that one can reject a hard-fought contract, which exceeds industry ‘pattern,’ without backing it up with the courage of your convictions, is absurd,” AFTRA National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth wrote in a letter to members. “In other words, why would any employer, after hearing such rhetoric, feel compelled to provide more than the above-pattern improvements already extracted from them simply because one ‘asks’?”
SAG, however, has taken just such a tack, lobbying to persuade AFTRA members—many of whom also belong to SAG—that they can reject the deal and still not go on strike.
“A no vote means no and that’s all it means,” SAG said in an ad that appeared in Wednesday’s Daily Variety. “What about going back to the table? Is AFTRA saying they won’t go back and bargain a better deal if AFTRA members vote this deal down? The SAG national negotiating committee knows that a ‘no’ vote makes a strike less likely because it shows that all actors want a better deal.”


  1. I hope the studios do a lock out. TRUST me, as a Sag elig. person, I am elig. to join SAG, but wont due to them being stupied, I know what happens on set. background makes $130.00 for 8 hours, then they hit overtime. Theya re fed netter food and have a separate tent. These are background actors. Many of which disappear once they check on, go sleep in their cars and simply avoid working. They then bitch and complain and talk down to crew, non sag people and others. It’s embarrassing. PLUS the higher end actors want 10%??? Thats crazy.What teh public adn these “actors” don’t get is that without writers, caterers, grips, transportation ( to drive them in golf carts one block), gaffers, camera men and OMG hair and makeup, they would be nothing. it is the behind the scenes people that should go on strike.SCREW SAG, BUT GO AFTRA!!!!!

  2. Well, SAG has once again stepped on its own foot…first they have secret meetings with the WGA with AFTRA purposely uninvited. They support the WGA strike wholeheartedly leaving AFTRA to support it uninvited to the party. Then they try to get AFTRA to change Phase One, the bargaining agreement they’ve had since the 80’s and make SAG’s side able to block vote, which is a substantial change and yet they offer no incentives except, “hey, we want to do it, OK?” Well, “no” says AFTRA. We go round and round with that fantasy for awhile, then SAG says “OK we’ll drop all our demands to change Phase One and we’ll negotiate together just like the good ole days”…AFTRA says “OK”, but wonders what is up their sleeve, and sure enough, in the middle of meetings with the AFL and John Sweeney who was trying to ameliorate the problems with the two performers unions, lo and behold, the Allen Twins of SAG meet for hours with the apparently unhappy few actors of Bold and the Beautiful and coach them on how to dump AFTRA! A jurisdictional end run trying to swipe an AFTRA show that has been in AFTRA’s camp for many long years. This puts AFTRA off a bit so they say, “hey, we can’t trust you guys so why should we negotiate with you?” So they set up their separate negotiations. SAG gets to the AMPTP first and gets….nothing in the first 3 weeeks or so, so theySAG calls AFTRA and say, “can we have another week, and they you can talk, OK?” “Okay” says AFTRA…they wait and another SAG call comes at the end of the week…”We just need three more days” says SAG…”Ok” again says AFTRA, nice kind understanding people that they are. But poor SAG can’t make their deal and the AMPTP says, “we want to talk to AFTRA cause we ain’t gettin nowhere with youse guys”. So AMPTP meets with AFTRA, things go pretty well, in fact, good, and AFTRA gets a very good deal all things considered. But SAG still has no deal and they still haven’t asked for a strike vote from members and secretly think maybe they can’t get it, so what to do? They want more of everything and they don’t seem to have much concern for others who may not want to strike to get them, in fact they don’t even want to know if members want a strke so, “Voila! I got it”, yells one of the negotiationg committee members who isn’t getting enough sleep, “Let’s kill AFTRA’s deal and they will have to come back and negotiate again and maybe somehow, we can, what? Get a better deal during a shutdown or whatever…hey we gotta do something, don’t we?”
    Hello? Is anyone out there? Is anyone interested in the machinations of the Hollywood SAG board…make that the Negotiation Committee…not the board…In fact the SAGNY Board voted to support AFTRA’s contract! What me Worry? Alfred E. Newman for President of the Screen Actors Guild!

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