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Will Hollywood Board Defeat SAG Film Pact?

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The Screen Actors Guild's Hollywood board represents the largest segment of the Guild's national board of directors. That division presently consists of opponents to SAG National President Melissa Gilbert, her Restore Respect slate, and Robert Pisano, SAG's national executive director and chief executive officer. That section also involves the leaders who opposed and defeated Gilbert in her efforts and those of Pisano at consolidation with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, consummating a new franchise agreement with the major talent agencies, and passing a dues increase.

Can Gilbert's opponents gather enough strength to defeat a SAG vote on a new feature-film and television pact with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers?

The Hollywood contingent didn't prove strong enough this weekend to quell sending the contract ballots to members. A joint board of SAG and AFTRA voted 71.4 percent to 28.6 percent to approve and recommend a new three-year TV/Theatrical deal to members. Those ballots will go out Feb. 7 and must be returned no later than Feb. 28.

As for the joint board's vote, the SAG board members probably saw a heavier opposition. Anne-Marie Johnson, chair of the SAG Hollywood board, and Kent McCord, a member of the SAG board and leading opponent of Gilbert and Pisano, said on Tuesday that about 42 percent of the SAG national board opposes the proposed new agreement. That opposition led both Gilbert and John Connolly, the national president of AFTRA, to announce last week that they favored a minority report to be included with the ballots, to show members the specific concerns of the opponents. But that 42 percent opposition led by the Hollywood contingent probably won't be enough to pull down the contract. Why not?

First, because a majority vote of the combined voting membership of SAG and AFTRA will determine whether the contract passes. That's the voting procedure according to the Phase I agreement between SAG and AFTRA, which deals with their joint negotiating of contracts. It's not the same voting procedure used for the likes of consolidation, which required a favorable super-majority each from SAG and AFTRA, and which allowed McCord and his allies to defeat the merger effort.

Second, SAG and AFTRA members have a history of approving their collective bargaining agreements, even if a cry has risen against them. SAG's Gilbert has voiced what she considers numerous pluses in the proposed new pact, noting the package is worth $200 million, and calling that the "richest" contract in SAG's history.

She's also touted other elements, including increased wages for every category of performer; the "most significant expansion of jobs and wages for background actors in 13 years"; increases in employer contributions to pension and health plans; and the continuity of health benefits for TV series regulars whose shows are canceled.

SAG's Hollywood board, on the other hand, voted 36–3 last week to oppose the pact, calling it "premature, shortsighted, and hastily negotiated." The opponents feel union negotiators caved in to producers by not demanding increased residuals on the lucrative DVD market, and with what they consider a "rollback" by waiving residuals on early reruns of new TV series.

McCord Monday called the residual waiver "a dangerous precedent."

Both sides may—or may not—be able to support their arguments as they see the media conglomerates issue their profit reports over the coming weeks. For example, the Walt Disney Co. on Monday released its fiscal first-quarter report showing a 5 percent rise in monies over the previous year.

More specifically, those numbers included a 20 percent decline in studio entertainment to $2.4 billion due primarily to a drop in DVD and video sales. Gilbert could argue that SAG pulled a coup by giving producers a break on DVD residuals while getting an increase in healthcare contributions in return.

On the other hand, Disney's media networks saw revenues increase 11 percent to $3.5 billion, with operating income leaping 35 percent to $467 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Also, income from partnerships with cable ventures rose by 29 percent to $125 million. The Hollywood board could argue that, with those high, positive numbers, why should Disney get a break on rerun residuals?

Both sides will have to scurry to make their arguments. Members tend to mark and return ballots soon after they've received them. With ballots going in the mail Feb. 7, most members will probably receive and return them within seven to 10 days. So, much could depend on the wording each side uses in its report, which will be included with the ballots.

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