FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

SAG’s Terrible Dilemma

by DAVID MACARAY

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is still without a contract, which, even in the best of times and for the most opportunistic of unions, is a tricky and precarious situation.  But according to what’s being reported in mainstream and trade media, SAG—led by its fiery, beleaguered president, Alan Rosenberg—is close to slipping into your classic “no-win” status.

Not to get sucked into Hollywood-style melodrama here, but given what’s happened so far, and what looms ominously on the horizon, it can be argued that SAG is in the worst position a union can find itself.  With bad externals and equally bad internals, things look pretty damned bleak.

Consider the formidable array of obstacles lined up against it.

First, there’s the economy.  The condition of the national economy has been described, variously, as “bad,” as “very bad,” even as “scary bad.”  In any case, things are as disturbing as they’ve been since the Great Depression, with the prospect of getting worse before they get better.  Not exactly the ideal climate for hunkering down to a tough negotiation.

Second, SAG membership, led by a splinter group of big-name actors, including Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Alex Baldwin and Cameron Diaz, have publicly opposed SAG’s executive board’s decision to seek a strike vote, arguing that this is no time for saber-rattling and putting people in jeopardy of losing their jobs.  Succumbing to pressure, SAG leadership announced on December 23 that the proposed strike vote, originally set to begin on January 2, would be moved back to January 14, “at the earliest.”

On the flip side you have a group of other “name” actors, including Mel Gibson, Holly Hunter, Martin Sheen and Sandra Oh.  This group is less sanguine.  They believe that the issues facing SAG are simply too vital and timely to abandon without a fight, no matter how shaky the economy or how nervous the membership.  With Tom and Mel squared off like this, the theater marquee would read: “Forrest Gump vs. Braveheart.”

Third, there’s the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers), SAG’s adversary at the bargaining table.  Predictably, the Alliance is playing this up for all its worth, poor-mouthing its financial position and pretending that it’s already gone the extra mile to get a deal when, in fact, it’s barely moved an inch and has no intention of budging another millimeter.  When Hollywood producers can get cast as the meek, sympathetic victims, baby, you know you’re behind a million-pound eight-ball.

Fourth, the New York branch of the 120,000-member SAG union is, reportedly, engaged in a nasty, internecine battle with Rosenberg and company, taking management’s view that SAG-West is being reckless and irrational.  It’s bad enough having management on your back; just imagine what it must feel like when it’s your own union brethren doing the clawing.

Fifth, there’s been a considerable amount of negative public opinion.  Talk radio, letters to the editor, op-ed commentaries, industry blogs—most of it has been critical of SAG, accusing it of the traditional, garden-variety union stuff, plus railing against its leaders for not being man enough to simply admit when they’re whipped.

And sixth, there’s the pressure being exerted by “negotiation momentum.”  With the DGA (Directors Guild of America), AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) and the WGA (Writers Guild of America) having already signed similar contracts, SAG comes off as militant, greedy, selfish, and isolated (“Hey, why can’t you guys be team players?”).  It’s a grim picture.

But here’s the irony:  Despite a sick economy, negative public perception, and a potential membership rebellion, the guys running the show at SAG—the same guys who are being portrayed in the media as “cowboys” and “ego-maniacs”—are absolutely, dead-on correct in their assessment of the playing field and in what they’re seeking.

The critical issues in this bargain involve the broad question of residuals for New Media ventures, technological areas which are still largely untapped and unpredictable, but potentially wildly lucrative.  The Alliance desperately wants to keep these goodies locked up for themselves, resisting any attempts to further divvy up with the hired help.  It’s not complicated and it’s not surprising.  It’s Business 101.

Forget it’s Hollywood for a moment.  Treat this SAG vs. AMPTP deal like any other union vs. management negotiation.  It’s been a time-honored management practice to use a weak economy as their main argument for not sweetening the pot, even when they’re not being hurt by it.  (Note:  Worldwide movie revenues continue to climb.)

Of course, anyone who’s ever sat at a bargaining table knows there are two problems with this macro-economic scenario.  One is that management never, ever allows the union to take the converse approach—to ask for a decent raise on the grounds that the economy is chugging along on all eight cylinders.

Indeed, when the union tries to help itself by pointing out that the country is wallowing in one of the greatest economic boons in history, it’s told that the condition of the national economy is irrelevant, that they’re not there to talk the Big Picture, that they’re there to talk specific industry-related or company-related matters.  It’s a one-way street.

The other problem is that a union can never dig itself out of a hole once they’re in it.  When you capitulate because the overall economy is weak (even when the company or industry in question is strong), you will struggle forever to make that up, even when things turn prosperous.  In truth, you never catch up; you stay behind forever.

Which is exactly what AMPTP wants.  They want a 3-year contract that will give them an insurmountable headstart in New Media.  The producers regard this innovative technology as a potential bonanza, viewing New Media the way John D. Rockefeller viewed a new oil field.  Why share it, when you can keep it all for yourself—especially if you can use a convenient recession as your weapon?

This brings us, finally, to the little matter of the strike vote itself.  And that can be summed up in one sentence:  If you ask for strike authorization, you damned well better get it.  Period.

To that end, SAG has set itself a formidable task.  Unlike many unions, which require only a simple majority, SAG by-laws require a 75% mandate to authorize a strike.  Given SAG’s public dissension, even the most optimistic handicappers believe that getting three-quarters of the membership to vote Yes will be a long-shot.

Make no mistake:  Nothing kills bargaining leverage quicker than having a strike vote fail.  That’s why union leaders usually won’t risk a strike vote if they think it will fail.  Not asking your members for strike authorization always leaves the lingering doubt that you may have gotten it, even when—like now, with SAG—it looks dubious.  Without proof, neither side can know for certain.

But a membership voting down strike authorization not only erases all doubt, it tells management two things:  The members have no stomach for a fight and no confidence in their own executive board.  In which case, the union may as well take a shovel and bury any hopes it had of getting a decent contract.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright (“Borneo Bob,” “Larva Boy”) and writer, was a former labor union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail