True Blood Season 2: Sagging Contract Negotiations Pose Mild Threat

February 21, 2009 by  

sag_logo_75Hopes for a quick resolution to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) contract conundrum died with a whimper yesterday as negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) hit a brick wall after adding a third day to the renewed talks. The new SAG negotiators, put in place during the recent uprising of the moderate sector of SAG, had hoped that the producers would move a bit more than they have. While SAG has now offered to accept the studios compensation plan for online productions, the major sticking point for the last 8 months, the studios only tweaked their offer slightly with such magnanimous offers as to not rescind scheduled lunch breaks. And you thought indentured servitude was an old fashioned idea…

According to Variety:
“That proposal wasn’t enough to persuade SAG’s leaders to accept the “last, best and final” offer, which included half a dozen “concessions” by the AMPTP

  1. Withdrawal of the proposal on “French Hours,” which covers meal penalties
  2. Modification the “union security” clause for new media productions
  3. Withdrawal of its proposal to eliminate force majeure protection and present a revised clause for series contract performers impacted by an unforeseen event such as the WGA strike
  4. Increased covered background performers in features from two to five
  5. Recognition that dancing on hard and slippery surfaces may qualify as hazardous activity
  6. Agreement with SAG’s proposal to all TV stunt coordinators to participate in revenue-based residual payments”

In addition there was a small increase to pensions and health care contributions included in the new offer.

The major sticking point is when the contract will be deemed to start and end. Producers refuse to allow the contract to be retroactive to the date that the previous contract expired because there is a pay increase included that the producers say they cannot afford due to the constricting economy. Additionally SAG wants the contract to end after two years instead of three so that all the various guilds will be negotiating at the same time. The producers don’t want this to happen because it would give the united unions more negotiating heft but they have agreed to let the current contract expire only if a newer agreement is in place already by then, basically denying SAG the opportunity to strike for an additional year when it would once again be negotiating on it’s own.

The SAG negotiating team will present the ‘new’ offer to it’s board on Saturday but the board is fully expected to reject this mainly unchanged new deal. The producers offer is only good for 60 days when it may be revoked or adjusted before being re-offered.

If the new deal is turned down on Saturday there will most likely be increased saber rattling by SAG concerning the possibility of a strike but it still requires a 75% approval vote by members who have thus far shown little inclination to stop working so soon after last years financially devastating WGA strike. Below the line workers will be especially reluctant to strike in these economically difficult times when alternate work will be hard to obtain. It’s unclear when or if SAG would present the option to strike to it’s members but it will take at least a month for the process to complete at earliest in mid to late March. Most shows have accelerated their filming schedules in order to get enough shows in the can to get to the end of the season in case of a SAG strike. Combined with the delay, a ratified strike authorization threat will carry less weight it might have if authorized last fall. And much less impact than last years writers strike.

In an odd confluence of events, SAG and AFTRA will be working together to negotiate with the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Monday, February 23rd for a new commercials contract. Relations have been strained between SAG and AFTRA since AFTRA abandoned SAG and negotiated their own contract with AMPTP last June. This joint contract will also deal with the problematic new media (ie internet and DVD productions) pay schedules.


(Photo credit: SAG)