For the film industry, D-Day is Monday, when the Screen Actors Guild’s contract with the Hollywood studios expires. But does that “D” stand for disaster? Denouement? Or simply delay?
While the union has yet to seek a strike authorization vote from its members, the industry is already in a “de facto” strike, with the studios winding down all but a few film productions by Monday. Hollywood is still recovering from a 14-week writers’ strike that ended in February.
SAG’s national executive committee has approved a measure granting its negotiators the authority to seek an extension of the contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, the studios’ bargaining arm. Though not a requirement, an extension seems to be a near certainty. “If there’s an agreement to extend, they can extend it by a month, a week or day-to-day,” said attorney Scott Witlin, whose clients include producers. “Or they can have no extension and the contract lapses. But that doesn’t automatically mean there’s a strike. That just means there could be one at any time if SAG gets strike authorization.”
Without a contract extension, the union would be taking a risk at the table. Labour laws would permit the studios to make “a last, best and final offer,” which SAG would be obliged to accept or reject. If SAG were to reject, the studios could impose the terms of their final offer.
“SAG’s only option at that point is to take it or take a strike vote,” said Alan Brunswick, a labour lawyer.
SAG would need 75% of its 140,000 members to vote in favour of a strike, and many industry watchers believe it would fall short. Dire economic forecasts and the fatigue lingering from the 100-day writers’ walkout are the factors most cited as negatives that would weigh on the guild membership.
The other big factor is SAG’s increasingly bitter dispute with smaller sister union AFTRA, which already has a tentative deal with the studios. SAG has enlisted such stars as Jack Nicholson, Ben Stiller and Nick Nolte in a campaign to urge AFTRA’s 70,000 members to vote against ratification.
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