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What’s needed is action

Almost three weeks have passed since the contract between the Screen Actors Guild and the major Hollywood studios expired, so it’s past time for the two sides to be hunkering down for some serious give-and-take. Instead, they have met three times since the previous deal lapsed, with no evident results. The sides have said even less to the public than they’ve said to each other, so they may be drawing closer on some issues. But it certainly doesn’t seem like it.

What this party needs, if not gland treatment (as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s characters recommended), is a dose of reality. The studios seem to think that SAG’s negotiators have lost touch with the rank and file. And SAG’s leadership seems to think it has the leverage to extract more from the studios on several critical issues than the writers, directors and other actors unions could. A good way to test those assumptions is for SAG to let its members vote on the contract offer. Put the studios’ terms on the table for all to see and explain why they’re not good enough. Let the members who have been agitating for a deal make the case for approving the studios’ offer. Then see what happens.

It’s anybody’s guess how SAG members would vote on a contract proposal whose details haven’t been disclosed. But the current problems could become even more intractable if the membership voted against it. The studios have publicly committed to dropping some financial incentives and taking a tougher line against SAG if their offer isn’t accepted by Aug. 15. But a “no” vote would force SAG’s leadership to seek more concessions, even though few people believe the union membership would approve a strike (it takes a 75% vote to authorize one). The result would be an enduring rift, with some film productions postponed (because they can’t afford to be interrupted by a work stoppage) while TV shoots continue as if all were well. That’s not as bad as a full-blown strike. But it’s still corrosive to the local economy.

Our hope is that simply setting a vote in motion will be enough to make the studios and the SAG leadership think more clearly about the trajectory they’re on. SAG’s negotiating team isn’t yet ready to toe the line set by the other unions’ deals, yet the studios don’t want to move that line. The two sides need to step up the pace of talks and look for new ways to address the issues uniquely important to SAG’s membership. And while they’re at it, they should devise better assurances that the most contentious provisions will be fully renegotiated in the next contract, three years down the line. That would reduce the stakes for issues related to the Internet, which will be a major revenue source in the future but isn’t one today.

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