Is a SAG Strike Imminent?

With only two days left till their contract expires, the Alliance for Motion Picture and Television Producers have announced that after 13 days of talking and arguing, with the Screen Actors Guild, they aren't anywhere closer to reaching a consensus.

Are we on the verge of witnessing yet another slow parade of picketers in front of the various studios around Hollywood?

In a press release clearly designed to try to force the hand of SAG, the AMPTP say that they are in a stalemate:

"The AMPTP has been negotiating with SAG now for 13 days. Last week, we asked AFTRA to delay the start of its negotiations until May 5th so that we could give the SAG talks every opportunity to produce an agreement. Since the SAG negotiations are due to wrap up on Friday, May 2nd, today is a good time to let you know where things stand.

When we requested an extra week for the SAG negotiations, we told you that there were "significant gaps" between the parties. Candidly, we must offer the same assessment of the negotiations today, with just over two days to go. Although both parties have spent considerable time in the negotiating room, we are not yet close to an agreement. This is the case for two fundamental reasons:

First, SAG initially rejected the framework for new media that was established through the DGA, WGA and AFTRA Network Code negotiations. The Producers’ position has been that there is no valid reason to upend the new media framework that has already been accepted by writers, directors, and AFTRA Network Code. Last week, SAG indicated that it would be willing to live within the existing new media framework – but only with more than 70 changes to the framework, some of which would go a long way toward making the framework itself unworkable.

The second reason is this: SAG’s willingness to work with the existing new media framework (albeit with more than 70 changes) was conditioned on AMPTP addressing SAG’s demands in traditional media areas. Unfortunately, these demands – including a doubling of the existing DVD formula and huge increases in compensation and benefits – would result in enormous cost increases that we are not willing to accept. The SAG Basic and TV Agreements are mature labor pacts for mature businesses. In such circumstances employers in other industries typically negotiate reductions and efficiencies to reduce costs. We are not seeking to do this. But we cannot responsibly accept the unprecedented, double-digit increases in DVD residuals and conditions being sought by SAG, or wage hikes that in some cases reach 200%. As a result, we have made little progress in narrowing the significant differences with SAG on these critical traditional media issues.

We still have two days of negotiations remaining with SAG, and we are going to continue to work as hard as we can to find a mutually acceptable resolution. Failing that, we are prepared to begin negotiations with AFTRA on Monday, May 5th. "

Shortly after this release, SAG fired back its salvo in a letter to SAG members:

The AMPTP knows we did not state that they had to agree to all of our non-new media proposals. We expect the AMPTP to negotiate in good faith and we will do the same.

We stand by our research and the information we provided you in our Contract 2008 Reports. We are not surprised that the employers dispute the economic hardships actors are facing. You know better.

We will not negotiate this contract in the press. Instead, we are focused on reaching a fair contract that addresses your needs as professional actors. We will continue to update you regularly.

So what does all this mean if the two sides can't reach a decision? It means that all the forward momentum that was generated after the WGA strike this year will be for naught if SAG strikes. It means that no projects will move forward and Tinseltown will once again come to a grinding halt.

And consumers like you and I will barely bat an eye.

Oh sure, people in the industry like to think that it will spell chaos and anger moviegoers. But the reality is that as long as Hollywood keeps churning out the kind of crap that they've been doing for the past few years - remakes and "re-imagining" of older movies, comic book adaptations with no thought, creativity or reason, and brainless, formulaic sequels to stuff that only mildly was interesting the first time - the audiences really wont care if there is a work stoppage.

The people really affected by this will be the below-the-line folks. The guys who get paid by the gig - The cameramen, gaffers, grips, electricians, costumers, musical composers, editors...hell, even production assistants will now go hungry while the big boys stand around and ignore each other.

The word on the street is that the AMPTP - the organization that represents the CEO's of the major studios and television networks - say that they are willing wait out a strike as long as July or possibly August in order to get SAG to cave in to the terms of the contract. They have seen what happened with the WGA contracts and are willing to play much a harder form of hardball.

The SAG contract expires in two days. How long after that before a strike is officially called is unknown. But if I were a betting person (and Vegas can attest that I am) if I were a member of SAG, I'd start looking for a good pair of sturdy and comfortable walking shoes.

As always, stay tuned.

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