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SAG vs. AFTRA Is the Worst Show in Hollywood

BOTH GEORGE CLOONEY and now Tom Hanks were dragged into the SAG vs. AFTRA battle the other day. The two A-listers denied taking sides in this ongoing actor-against-actor insanity that’s been waging for months. It was the first time the collateral damage involved anyone other than the leaders of both unions. But the fact is, every member of these guilds has been damaged by it. Which is why I’m calling for a truce.

Enough is enough.

Let me first make it clear that I believe all Screen Actors Guild efforts, official or unofficial, to convince about 44,000 dual cardholders to deep-six the smaller American Federation of Television and Radio Artists’ deal, recently negotiated with the Hollywood CEO’s clique known as the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers, is a ridiculous waste of time.

On the other hand, SAG can’t be expected to control the opinions or actions of all of its members, and apparently not even its board members. (The Clooney-Hanks skirmish started when SAG board member Susan Savage sent an unofficial e-mail to members, erroneously stating that the superstar duo had joined those dual cardholders opposing ratification of the new AFTRA-AMPTP deal.)

SAG claims it is not now engaged in an official campaign to defeat ratification of the AFTRA contract. But that’s not true.

SAG leaders Alan Rosenberg and Doug Allen recently made the rounds of all the moguls to articulate two agendas: (1) that SAG’s talks with AMPTP are hopelessly stalled, and the Hollywood CEOs need to insert themselves just as they did with the WGA talks to reach a contract; and (2) that SAG is angry the moguls negotiated seriously with AFTRA first, at the expense of the bigger actors guild.

As one of the moguls who took the meeting told me in answer to my question, “Yes, they said they were going to fight the AFTRA deal.”

Regardless, it’s certainly true that some very vocal SAG-AFTRA members, including some SAG board members, are really angered by the AFTRA-AMPTP deal. Specifically, they see it as a continuation of piss-poor AFTRA agreements in the past (bad basic-cable deals, residuals giveaways, low day rates, lousy one-time-only pacts, etc). They resent AFTRA’s nonsensical termination of the two guilds’ joint bargaining agreement. And they oppose the weak terms of this new AFTRA-AMPTP three-year pact.

And then there are a multitude of examples of AFTRA’s childish and churlish behavior toward SAG leadership, which, the smaller union claims, is dominated by “Membership First” activists (i.e., SAG members who put the union’s interests before the members’ interests — as if they’re not one and the same).

For instance, nearly every time SAG issues statements trying to bring both unions together, the AFTRA leadership issues dueling statements, creating schism after schism.

In addition, during its bargaining with the AMPTP, AFTRA purposely excluded SAG’s observer for more than two-thirds of the negotiating days (and lied about it). But the weirdest crap happened right after AFTRA leaders quickly reached an agreement with AMPTP. First, SAG found out AFTRA had a deal only by reading it in Variety. What a classless move by AFTRA, to call the trade but not the other actors union. Then, AFTRA’s New York City contingent skedaddled Los Angeles without briefing SAG as soon as the deal was done, meaning that SAG couldn’t go into its second round of negotiations the next day up to speed.

It was a ludicrous scene, insiders told me: AFTRA’s president Roberta Reardon, its negotiating committee and various staff, scurrying through the lobby at 5757 Wilshire Blvd., with suitcases in hand in a mad dash to leave for LAX and avoid briefing SAG. (The bigger union wasn’t formally briefed by AFTRA until some 60 hours later.)

I don’t care who did what to whom anymore. Move on, you big babies. The AFTRA-AMPTP deal is done.

Yes, it’s lousy. How lousy? I’m told the deal’s new media terms are the exact same offered by AMPTP to SAG on Day One of their negotiations last month. So AFTRA bargained with the networks and studios for 16 days, only to obtain what SAG had flatly rejected.

Clearly it wasn’t a priority for Reardon and company to bargain long and hard and well. That was evident when AFTRA caved on the use of clips. AFTRA merely postponed facing down the studios and networks, which seek to change the rules and make free and unfettered use of clips for any purpose, including commercial entertainment compilations for which only they would benefit financially.

So AFTRA handed retiring AMPTP prez Nick Counter his last hurrah.

SAG leadership is certainly free to issue statement after statement clarifying why the AFTRA-AMPTP deal isn’t one the bigger actors union would ever sign. But I think it’s wrong for SAG to be organizing against the AFTRA pact.

Fortunately, SAG leaders are becoming aware that their behavior is bordering on unseemly. At the June 9, 10 a.m., rally at SAG national headquarters, which was supposed to be a show of support for the guild’s negotiating committee, most people expected it to degenerate into an AFTRA-bashing antiratification free-for-all. It didn’t.

LAPD unofficially estimated the SAG Solidarity Rally crowd at 550. SAG leaders Rosenberg and Allen gave impassioned pro-actor speeches. When the subject of the AFTRA-AMPTP deal did come up, it was because hundreds of assembled SAG/AFTRA dual cardholders chanted, “Vote no! Vote no!”

Some SAG negotiating committee members from regional branches refused to attend the rally because they saw it as an action to “thwart” the AFTRA contract ratification. (There has been a huge schism for months, especially between SAG leaders and the union’s outpost in New York.) New York division president Sam Freed said in a statement that SAG’s AFTRA bashing was “an irresponsible embarrassment.” Negotiating committee co-chair Mike Pniewski echoed that, saying, it was a “divisive initiative.”

Maybe so. But AFTRA also needs to shut up already about SAG. The two guilds need to stop meddling in each other’s internal affairs. What AFTRA does shouldn’t affect SAG. After all, in the realm of scripted entertainment, AFTRA is puny. While SAG accounts for 100 percent of motion pictures and about 90+ percent of television, AFTRA had just three network scripted series total, under this prime-time TV contract (and one, ABC’s Cashmere Mafia, has been canceled).

But AFTRA has been reeling in a few pilots. So I sense concern inside SAG’s leadership that AFTRA will further encroach on SAG’s jurisdiction by using as a come-on its new AMPTP deal, which continues the union’s shameful history of compromising actors with contract terms inferior to SAG’s. Ironic, since Reardon, et al., falsely claimed it was SAG’s alleged encroachment on AFTRA’s soap operas that caused her to abruptly end the two unions’ joint bargaining agreement.

I also sense worry inside SAG leadership that dual cardholders may not stay loyal in the very unlikely event of a SAG strike. But the SAG card is the most coveted among actors, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. So let AFTRA continue acting out its inferiority complex simply because SAG is the superior union.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: This SAG-AFTRA warring is a Big Media mogul’s wet dream. And isn’t there enough fellatio performed on Hollywood CEOs already?