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A Macro Assault on Hollywood Unions July 2, 2008

If ever there were a time for show-biz unions to stand together in solidarity, it was 2008. I’m talking SAG and WGA and even the employer-compliant DGA, as well as the low-cost toadies AFTRA and IATSE. Just how many ways is the Big Media cartel screwing the Hollywood guilds right now anyway?

The studios and networks have brought negotiations with the Screen Actors Guild to a standstill. As I reported in several L.A. Weekly columns last year, after a bitter strike with the writers, the bullies are not paying the WGA for New Media under the new contract. The moguls have even rolled back IATSE members’ eligibility requirements for health coverage and forced lesser terms on AFTRA. It’s hard not to interpret all this as a direct assault on the Hollywood unions in the macro sense, thus demonstrating exactly what shits the studio and network CEOs are, as well as the labor lawyers who lead them around by the nose. Nor is this a byproduct of the disastrous economy, because this crappy behavior started waaaay before the stock market crashed. And let’s not forget that the studios and networks still owe SAG nearly $60 million in force majeure payments left over from the writers’ strike.

Does Hollywood truly understand how its employer-labor relations increasingly appear to be on the brink of breaking down after more than a year of bullying by the AMPTP and battling back by the more militant guilds? And when agreements already reached aren’t even respected — well, then, the whole system of labor relations is failing.

The Hollywood CEOs and their negotiating reps, those AMPTP ass-wipes, should be ashamed of themselves. But that would require them to have consciences. SAG members also are to blame. The WGA showed admirable togetherness during its strike against the employers, but the big actors union is imploding.

After spending all spring, summer and fall educating members on the need to stand up to the moguls, SAG president Alan Rosenberg and executive director and chief negotiator Doug Allen now had to delay the Strike Authorization Ballot because of SAG infighting. True, the necessary 75 percent “yes” vote threshold would have been tough to succeed even if the economy were fine, TV and movie productions were plentiful, and the big actors union had gone first instead of last in these Hollywood contract negotiations.

So it’s looking increasingly likely that the actors will wind up taking the employers’ awful June 30 contract proposal. But if that pact is ratified, then I predict the mother of all strikes by two or more guilds will hit Hollywood in the next three years. The moguls aren’t concerned because they’re betting that their cartel will control even more of New Media by then. If the contract is rejected, then the AMPTP and Big Media will have to realize this vote isn’t just Rosenberg or Allen shooting their mouths off about the rotten terms. Instead, SAG would be representing the will of its members. As for a strike-authorization vote, that could still hang out there as a last-ditch resort which, hopefully, proves unnecessary.

From “But When Will Hollywood Ever Get Back to Work?” by Nikki Finke

The sense of panic among actors, writers, directors and below-the-liners is palpable in Hollywood right now, matched only by the angst of agents whose phones aren’t ringing, and out-of-town journalists struggling to write “strike scare” stories. Strange, isn’t it, that the only Hollywood types without any visible flop sweat from the de facto shutdown of production are the network and studio moguls — because they are the puppeteers pulling everybody else’s strings.

From behind the scenes, they order Hollywood to jump, and the town asks how high. And never more so than during all these guild negotiations. If only the entire industry could stay focused on the actions of big media and start pressuring the Hollywood CEOs to put people back to work. Instead, everyone’s attention has strayed to the carnival sideshow of SAG vs. AFTRA, and AFTRA vs. SAG, and Big Star vs. Big Star, and all the other diversions in an already-confused situation.

Now, take a deep breath and calm down. To understand what’s going on right now, I first need to ask you to do the following: Reflect on everything you knew surrounding the writers strike, and then throw it all out the window when considering if there’ll be a strike sequel, this time by the actors guilds against the big media behemoths.