Editorial: A Bad Time to Choose: Why SAG Should Delay

Nov 30, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Once again, the gun is loaded, cocked and pointed straight at the television industry’s head. Will its leaders once again pull the trigger? Will a labor union and the media companies again fail to compromise, harming not only themselves but thousands of innocents?
Let’s hope not.
The Screen Actors Guild last week said it would go to its membership seeking a strike authorization vote because the union’s negotiations over a new contract with media companies had failed.
The crux of the problem revolves around the same issues that pushed the Writers Guild of America into a strike that last year crippled production of fall TV shows and drained the Los Angeles and New York economies of billions of dollars.
New-media residuals were the issue that bedeviled the WGA and now plague SAG. The WGA and the Directors Guild of America ended up accepting a deal that gave them some new-media residuals and better transparency into how much the media companies will profit from shows distributed over nontraditional media.
SAG now says the deal cut by the WGA and DGA shouldn’t serve as a template for actors.
The union makes some fair points in distinguishing between its members’ situation and those faced by writers and directors.
The question is whether SAG can craft a deal with the media companies that would account for those differences and be fair to both sides. In that regard, the union may be overestimating its ability to peer into the future and predict just how new-media revenue streams will affect the business of television.
SAG President Alan Rosenberg said the guild is beginning an educational campaign urging members to support an authorization vote, which would require a 75% majority. No timetable for mailing ballots has been set.
Speaking of timetables, TelevisionWeek has a proposal: A one-year cooling-off period during which SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers could work under the terms of the current contract.
What on first blush might seem a futilely Solomonic proposal actually would let several TV industry plot strands wrap up before either side could push the medium we all love to the brink.
The declining economy currently is skewing calculations far too much to trust that either actors or the media companies will make good long-term decisions at the moment.
Actors, the majority of whom are never too far from worrying about their next rent check, are as hard-pressed currently as any labor segment of the economy. Does Mr. Rosenberg really want to push a vote when his membership is worried about putting food on the table?
There’s a real chance he won’t be able to rally his troops to the picket lines when they are more worried about bread lines.
Media companies, whose AMPTP proxies showed poor sportsmanship by citing the economy in a statement pillorying SAG last week, also have much to gain by waiting for the economic waters to calm. They are watching the advertising market erode, which bodes poorly for quarterly earnings as we head into 2009, and stock prices have plummeted. This is not the time for good managers to rock the boat with a scripted-TV work stoppage.
A separate event last week also militates in favor of a wait-and-see approach. The Writers Guild of America claimed the media companies aren’t living by the digital residuals terms of the contract that ended the writers strike in February. In a year, SAG would have more data by which to gauge how digital residuals will work for the unions, and to see if the companies perform in good faith.
As with all negotiations, the current SAG-AMPTP labor talks are a game of chicken. We saw last year how badly things can go when neither player gives way.
Given the state of the economy and how much the industry has to lose from another work stoppage, now is not the time for histrionics. Let’s all just take a deep breath.


  1. As a BTL family we try not to think about what another work stoppage would do to us. The writer’s strike was terrible and for many, many others who could only sit back and watch as our savings were depleted and our lives changed. We have just started to recover from that mess only to have to think about a “what if…”. What little is left in the retirement fund that hasn’t been decimated by the economy already will be the next to go if this strike happens. A cooling off period would be a good thing to consider at this point. Let the economy stabilize, histronics put aside and remove Roseberg from all negotiations.

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