Thursday, January 10, 2008


Why I’m voting NO on the Strike Authorization Referendum

The Board’s responsible decision in October to try and bail out the negotiations and save face for SAG/LA leadership by involving a mediator demonstrated maturity and fiscal responsibility in an organization that has gained a reputation for knee-jerk, emotional responses. I congratulate those members of the NY Board, the Regional Branch Division and the new members of the Hollywood Board who have remained calm and clear-headed during very difficult times. These board members’ intention was for the negotiating committee to go back to the table (something that hadn’t happened since July) in a good faith attempt to finally negotiate the agreement that the WGA, DGA and AFTRA have all signed on to. Instead, the committee put DVDs back on the table ensuring the mediation would go nowhere. Even the WGA took their DVD proposal off the table before their strike. The vote in the negotiating committee to send out the Strike Authorization Referendum was not unanimous indicating that some members of the SAG team understand the realities and subsequently where the deal lies.

Now it’s the memberships’ turn to weigh in on this important issue. While I have never, ever voted against a strike authorization in my life I will quickly cast my no vote and hope that many members do the same. A strike authorization is a tool of leverage for your negotiator and negotiating committee but it’s crystal clear that the timing is wrong. It’s time for the membership to look behind the curtain and see the naked emperor. Only then can we clothe him and send him on his way.

Labor Relations 101: If you want to take a membership out on strike, you must be able to shut down the industry. It’s one of the reasons why the Phase One Agreement between SAG and AFTRA was created back in the 1980s – to ensure that in the event of a job action – ALL actors were on the same page.

That essential leverage ended when SAG initiated a campaign early last year to end Phase One and began pummeling AFTRA relentlessly. After rescinding a motion to send a referendum to SAG members to end the Phase One Agreement, SAG/LA leadership sat down with a Soap Opera cast for 2 hours discussing how to decertify from AFTRA which is a huge breach of trust and an enormous labor no-no. It was the last straw for AFTRA resulting in SAG heading to the TV/Theatrical negotiations alone. I

f SAG takes a strike under the TV/Theatrical Contract it will not shut down the industry. SAG actors, 44,000 of which are also AFTRA actors, will continue to work on new TV shows as they will be produced using the AFTRA contract. It’s reported that film work has been stockpiled for a year. You might not like the message, but it is reality.

Additional leverage was gone once the WGA took a strike. As a SAG and AFTRA member I have no say in what the WGA does, but the reality is that the WGA’s 100 day strike at this very time, last year, took a huge toll on actors’ salaries. Have you recovered that lost income?

Any leverage we might have had left evaporated along with the DOW, the S&P and NASDAQ. We have been in a major recession for the past year, over a million jobs lost in just a few months and both President Bush and President-Elect Obama are warning the American people that the end is nowhere in sight.

The fact is SAG was last in line of all the entertainment unions to negotiate a contract with the AMPTP. Because of that fact, a “pattern” has been established. The deal to be made is to a) get jurisdiction in New Media (which WGA, DGA and AFTRA have done and SAG currently has NOT) and b) take DVDs off the table. The WGA removed their DVD proposal BEFORE they went on strike, and both the DGA and AFTRA had no DVD proposals.

The simplest and cleanest way to establish jurisdiction is to get management to voluntarily recognize the union as the collective bargaining agent for that work. That is exactly what the DGA, WGA and AFTRA did, and their willingness to give on the residuals in low budget productions in New Media made this possible. SAG’s unwillingness to accept that reality is why we have been working without a contract for over five months.

And while there would be no residuals for work made in this one area of New Media for the time being, this provision will expire (”sunset“) at the end of this contract in 2011. The same is true for the DGA, WGA, and AFTRA, meaning all the unions will have to renegotiate New Media in 2011, giving us overwhelming leverage at that time. Since the current deal also requires the studios to report fully on all the New Media work they do (including budgets and creative staff) by the time we sit down to renegotiate, the unions will have a very strong case to make for changes in the contract. We can make a case that our employers are making money from our work when we have a) the jurisdiction and b) the facts. At this moment, it’s all speculative.

And, even if SAG miraculously were able to achieve jurisdiction with residuals, it would do nothing more than ensure that all work would be done under an AFTRA contract, since AFTRA has been working under the deal that’s on the table since July.

The question then becomes, “Is the membership prepared to strike on a concept and not actual money in your pocketbook” during a time of economic uncertainty? If we had some leverage left in our back pocket, I’d be willing to entertain the conversation but SAG’s leverage is gone.

As many people in our industry are fond of saying, “Timing is everything.” Our timing is off and by a long shot.

Eileen Henry,Former 2nd National Vice President, Screen Actors GuildFormer NY President, Screen Actors GuildCurrent Trustee, Screen Actors Guild Pension and Health Plan