Ed Harris adds to growing opposition to SAG contract

by Paul William Tenny

I've got a couple of thoughts on the "vote no" video that Ed Harris did arguing against ratifying the tentative SAG/AMPTP contract. First and foremost, Ed sounded a lot like the writers did in the months leading up to and all throughout the WGA strike, which isn't surprising since these new media provisions are basically the same as the ones the DGA and WGA accepted early last year.

It's worth pointing out that the DGA wasn't willing to fight for those provisions at all, and the WGA had to strike to get them in the first place. The AMPTP didn't want to cough them up to begin with so it's not surprising that they don't want to improve those terms now, but that doesn't mean the existing terms were necessarily good.

Ed Harris doesn't seem to think so and based on this unsubstantiated report, a whole lot of actors agree with him.

What I'm wondering is what was the point of throwing out the old leadership. Membership First (MF) didn't think the new media terms were acceptable and that it was an issue worth striking over, but they got tossed by the membership in favor of United for Strength (US) who were basically promising to just take whatever deal the AMPTP was offering so that the whole mess would just go away. And now that the stale deal is back on the table, presumably the exact situation that a majority of the membership wanted, the membership is saying no to the deal and backing the leadership into a corner where the only way out is to strike.

What the hell is going on over there?

If the membership wasn't going to take the AMPTP deal as it was applied to the DGA/WGA, then why didn't they just stick with the MF guys? With the mailing list abuse debacle, one has to wonder if the membership is having serious regrets over the results of the last election.

United for Strength seems just as willing to play dirty to get their favored outcome and equally as inept as Membership First was on many levels, and I feel genuinely bad for actors these days.

My other thought relating to this video is that unions like SAG and DGA have fallen into a habit of looking at these negotiations in the wrong way. First of all they expire too quickly, such that any attempt to make big gains looks greedy since small gains are given every time a new deal is signed. An effort should be made between the guilds to make these things last longer than three years.

Second, they are seen as a chance to improve the existing framework of the business rather than looking at it as an opportunity -- or even a mandate -- to restructure large chunks of it to fix problems that exist at a fundamental level. Instead of trying to improve home video residuals, and instead of trying to tack on new media residuals, the entire residual system should be examined and probably thrown out and replaced with something better suited to cover all mediums at the same time.

Third, the highest priority right now for SAG and WGA shouldn't be new media, home video formulas, pension contributions, or raises in the minimums. It should be aligning the contract expiration dates with each other. A writers strike doesn't have the punch that it used to before reality programming, and SAG doesn't seem capable of hurting the AMPTP unless AFTRA goes along for the ride, which doesn't seem likely since AFTRA has basically become the new DGA. But both of these unions together can put the AMPTP out of business, and I'm not just talking about a plan of last resort where both unions would strike together -- I'm talking about forming strategy sessions for joint negotiations and having permanent liaisons that interact with each other even during non-contract years.

The workers have the unions but the unions might also benefit from an umbrella orginization that encourages them to exploit each other's strengths against the collective weaknesses and assets of the AMPTP.

The biggest threat to the AMPTP would be a SAG and WGA relationship so cohesive that they might as well send a single negotiating committee to the AMPTP to bargain for new contracts. Even the credible threat of that ought to scare the studios into making reasonable concessions on residuals disagreements.

Right now though it seems as if the WGA is the only union that has the guts to go after what it wants, and they can't get anything alone.
in Film, Labor


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