Leadership shuffle at SAG may end chance of strike
CHICAGO - A Screen Actors Guild strike, whose likelihood had already diminished in recent weeks, is even less probable now that the union has ousted its chief negotiator, labor experts said Tuesday.
The union's board fired Doug Allen, who had been its national executive director, late Monday night, replacing him on an interim basis with John McGuire.
The board also disbanded the TV/Theatrical Negotiating Committee, which had been handling talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on a new contract, and replaced it with a special taskforce to continue the negotiations.
"I think this does end the possibility of a strike," said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney at TroyGould. "Some would say it ended some time ago. A deal won't get done immediately - there's still negotiating to be done - but I think we'll see a deal sometime in March."
The ouster of Allen represents a victory for the moderate element within SAG, according to Charles Kaplan, a partner at Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold LLP.
"It's highly unlikely that the moderates will lead the union to a strike," Kaplan said. "The leadership has been ignoring the reality of the declining economy, and continued to ignore it as it's gotten worse."
SAG represents more than 122,000 actors. Its previous contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expired June 30, a month after the AMPTP walked out on negotiations.
The AMPTP represents the major studios, including those owned by Time Warner Inc., Viacom Inc., Walt Disney Co. and Sony Corp., as well as News Corp., which also owns MarketWatch, the publisher of this report.
Among other demands, the actors want residual payments from productions made specifically for the Web, cell phones and other nontraditional platforms, regardless of budget.
The union has argued that the producers offer no residual compensation to actors for original programming that runs on ABC.com, NBC.com, CBS.com, Hulu.com or other network-owned new media platforms.
For its part, the AMPTP has said its offer to SAG would provide actors with $250 million more in compensation than did its previous contract, with terms related to online streaming that are similar to those accepted by other unions, including the Writers Guild of America, AFTRA and the Directors Guild of America.
SAG has been splintered for more than two months, as a more radical wing led by President Alan Rosenberg and Allen called for a strike, while a separate group, including the New York board of directors and a list of high-profile actors including Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, have urged the union to get back to the table.
In Kaplan's view, Allen tried to bring to the AMPTP talks the kind of hardball tactics he had successfully employed as an executive with the NFL Players Association. "That didn't translate to SAG, because most of the actors don't make a lot of money (from acting)," Kaplan said.
Handel said too many actors, agents and other industry players came away from talks with Allen with feelings of "anger and dismay." The main problem, though, was that the former NFL linebacker came to the negotiations "with a lack of understanding about what leverage SAG really had," Handel asserted. "And there was this hatred of AFTRA that really cost them a lot of the leverage they could've had."
Last spring, SAG was going to jointly negotiate with the studios alongside another large group of actors who are part of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. But after some cast members of the CBS soap opera "The Bold and The Beautiful," represented by AFTRA, tried to de-certify the union in favor of possible SAG representation on a new contract, a conflict developed between the two unions.
AFTRA split from SAG on the joint negotiation strategy, preferring to work out its deal with the producers independently.
Eventually, SAG's moderate wing will push to rekindle the union's relationship with AFTRA, Kaplan said, perhaps even to the point of proposing a merger.