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Backstage: New NY Presidency May Help SAG Unify!

April 19, 2007 (19:05) | 2007, SAG Politics | By: Arlin Miller

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New NY Presidency May Help SAG Unify

September 06, 2007
By Andrew Salomon

Tensions between the leadership of the New York and Hollywood branches of the Screen Actors Guild have run high in recent years. The differences essentially concern the efficacy of the 2000 commercials strike and SAG’s current troubles with its sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Nevertheless, for the past year or so, efforts to forge unity — led by SAG president Alan Rosenberg and Paul Christie, president of the New York branch and the union’s 2nd vice president — have appeared to pay off.

“It’s been better than it’s been in a long time,” Christie said of East-West relations. “Alan and I disagree on an awful lot of things, but I consider him a friend after two years, and if it’s not getting done, it’s not for lack of trying on his part. He’s really busted his chops.”

“I’ve never seen it better,” said Anne-Marie Johnson, a national board member in Hollywood, a former 1st vice president, and Rosenberg’s most trusted confidante. “Paul Christie has been amazing.”

With elections under way, Rosenberg is facing three challengers for his office, including one from his own party, Membership First‘s Seymour Cassel. Meantime, Christie is stepping down after three years as New York president. “I’ve done my time, and my tank is empty,” he said. Christie, however, will keep his board seat for another three years.

Though the New York and Hollywood branches have moved closer together, disagreements over AFTRA and the 2000 strike have a direct bearing on the union’s next great challenge: negotiating major contracts next year covering commercials, television, and film — agreements that may be SAG’s first to broadly codify the terms for work in new media. Further, it is not clear that a change in the New York presidency will bring the East Coast’s perspective on these key issues more directly into alignment with the West’s.

After the ballots are counted on Sept. 20, the question could remain the same: Can the two branches patch these crucial differences before they deal with producers and advertisers next year?

Striking Difference

Three people are running for the New York presidency: Sam Freed, Erik-Anders Nilsson, and James Vassanelli. Freed, SAG’s 3rd vice president, has served on the national board for five years and sits on several committees, including the one that negotiates the TV/

Theatrical contract, which expires in June. Freed also has Christie’s endorsement. “What I always look for with people are people that have money in the game,” Christie said. “He’s worked every contract there is to work — SAG, AFTRA, Equity, commercials, you name it.”

Freed has worked as an actor for 35 years in theatre, film, and television; he has also done a significant amount of commercial and voiceover work. His credits include Third Watch, Law & Order, The Wire, and a stint as the voice of the Bravo network. As many members of the New York board do, Freed views the commercials strike as unsuccessful. “It was not a victory for us,” he said. “We lost a lot of work that we haven’t recovered and a lot of money that we won’t regain.”

Nilsson, a member of SAG since 1986, works frequently on FX’s Rescue Me as Denis Leary’s stand-in and in small roles. He also has worked as a background actor and stuntman. Though he has not served on any SAG committees, Nilsson said he has worked on resolutions to bring tax incentives for film production to Jersey City, N.J., and Pittsburgh. He cites runaway production as a crucial issue.

Nilsson also belongs to Membership First and disagrees sharply with Freed on the strike. “I think it was a very effective strike,” he said. “Yes, there was work lost, but I think you have to look at collectively what was gained.”

Johnson and others in Membership First concur. “People who speak about the strike speak from a very real, very emotional place. It was a tough time,” she said. “But it was a successful strike.”

Several attempts by Back Stage to reach Vassanelli were unsuccessful.

As for AFTRA

SAG and AFTRA have been sparring for the past several years over which union has jurisdiction over certain television shows shot digitally. AFTRA has been aggressive in securing work on Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, and other basic-cable networks, and many in Hollywood — particularly Rosenberg, Johnson, and their partisans in Membership First — have decried the moves.

“I would be very unhappy working under an AFTRA contract,” Johnson said. The key issue for her is residuals: Basic cable can air a program for 10 to 15 days before the actors see any residuals. Under a SAG contract, she said, actors get residuals from the first rerun on.

Since Doug Allen took over as SAG’s national executive director at the beginning of the year, the friction between the unions seems to have increased. He and Rosenberg have talked about altering or opting out of the joint bargaining agreement called Phase One, which gives the unions an equal number of seats (and votes) during negotiations.

On June 28, SAG’s national board voted to uphold Phase One but then pushed to institute bloc voting, which would allow the votes of SAG representatives to be counted as a unanimous bloc for whatever position is favored by the majority. Allen and Rosenberg want their union to have more seats at the bargaining table because SAG members earn more money and book more work than AFTRA members under the unions’ joint TV-film contract. However, AFTRA and the New York board of SAG, especially Christie and Freed, are opposed to changing the way votes are apportioned. “To tamper with that goes against the fundamental reason for establishing Phase One,” Freed said.

Nilsson said he is “a proud member of AFTRA” but also agrees with others in Membership First: The number of seats at the negotiating table should be directly proportional to the amount of work each union has under a contract. He also opposes AFTRA’s work in the basic-cable arena. “The actor is the loser in this,” he said. “Of course the producer will go with the lower-paying contract. Love them or be upset with them, a producer is what a producer is. As long as AFTRA keeps offering less money, the producer will go with that.”

Moving Forward?

Christie understands Hollywood’s objections to the AFTRA basic-cable contracts, but he said the whole issue could be resolved by merging the two unions, a position Freed also favors. “You look at the problems such as proportionality and contracts,” Freed said, “and you say, ‘If we had combined, it wouldn’t be an issue.’ ”

If New York and Hollywood disagree over the value of the 2000 strike and the number of seats SAG and AFTRA should have in negotiations, won’t actors and other performers be in a weakened position when they try to get what they want from producers and advertisers in 2008?

“Not at all,” Johnson said. “We had a 92 percent strike authorization vote for the basic-cable agreement last year. We put[differences] aside and we came together and looked at the bigger picture.” The contract was negotiated without incident and included about a 20 percent increase in residuals.

“Even though there might be different attitudes,” said Freed, “until we get into that room and we find out what the other side is telling usI don’t want to predict what’s going to happen in that circumstance, until the rubber hits the road in that room.”

And despite his misgivings about the commercials strike, Freed said, “My feelings certainly do flavor my judgments and perceptions, but that does not mean that I won’t keep all options open.”

Nilsson was more blunt. “While it is a sad thing to strike,” he said, “sometimes we have to get tough. We have to use every tool at our disposal as a union.”

Andrew Salomon can be reached at asalomon (at) backstage.com.



AFTRA Pulls Union Busting Stunt!

April 19, 2007 (19:05) | 2007, SAG Politics | By: Arlin Miller


The Old Dog got an email from a member of the Stunt Community. It went something like this: “David Bisbris, he is a AFTRA employee who stated to our group, (he was involved in our past contract talks….on the AFTRA side).

“Mr Bisbris said in front of our stunt group something that we consider very wrong. “Union Busting,” I think is the term. there are at least ten witnesses to his inappropriate statement.”

I have confirmed this with a couple of folks, and apparently what was said went along these lines, “How would you like to work more, but earn less?”

So, there you go folks. As you read in the “Mean Ol’ Memo” from former AFTRA President Susan Boyd, she said in essence the same thing! ACTORS MAKE TOO MUCH MONEY. Apparently, now they are also working on the same theory for members of our stunt community.

How long is it gonna take before someone in our union sticks their head out the window and yells, “I’m mad as hell and I ain’t gonna take this any more.” Ah, Doug, Alan?

Ah, maybe even a call to the Department of Labor might be in order. You think?

A.L. Miller SW Editor & Chief

The Ol’ Dog is heading on a fishing trip tomorrow, up through Canada, the Yukon Territory, and up to Anchorage. Should be back in a month. Of course, being a good union man, I will fish for scale.

I can bearly wait. It’s post time! *toast



Is the Screen Actors Guild being extorted by AFTRA to include them in our 2008 TV/Theatrical Negotiations?

April 19, 2007 (19:05) | 2007, SAG Politics | By: Arlin Miller


For the past several years, SAG Hollywood, where over 55 percent of our members reside, and SIXTY FIVE PERCENT of the revenue is generated, has been under the thumb of AFTRA and the USAN party of New York and the branches.

This is, in part, is the result of an agreement, struck between the two guilds back in 1981, called the Phase One agreement. It was called Phase One because it was anticipated, at the time, that it was the first phase, the honeymoon period so to speak, of the marriage of the two guilds–and that Phase Two would be a combining of the two guilds.

In the meantime, in the spirit of oneness, it was determined to give AFTRA an equal say in our major contracts even though their stake in the outcome was minor.

Although the SAG membership agreed to give the first phase a try, it has made it clear in two subsequent defeated referendums that it was only a phase SAG was going through.

Well, it was over TWENTY-FIVE years ago, and SAG’s membership has spoken. It’s time to phase out Phase One, THE HONEYMOON IS OVER. It’s time to move on before it’s too late.

While SAG has let our bargaining partners at AFTRA have an equal say in the negotiation of our Motion Picture and Primetime television schedule, in which they have practically no stake, they have been going behind our backs and undercutting our Basic Cable Contracts offering producers sub SAG minimums and First Year Free Exhibition Days that virtually eliminates residuals.

You want to know how bad it has gotten? Back in 2000/2001 there were eleven cable sitcoms, NINE where SAG, and TWO where AFTRA.

Well, thanks to AFTRA’s Incentive laden Contracts, based on AFTRA’s supposition that actors make too much money, the situation has changed drastically to the detriment of actors. *

Thanks to AFTRA’s low-balling of SAG’s contracts here are the numbers for 2006/2007. There are 14 cable sitcoms, AFTRA has THIRTEEN SHOWS and SAG has ONE! Hmmm, I wonder how many of these shows were packaged by agents, and, and how much they’ll get on the back end? But, but there’s been no problem with the ownership “giveaway deal” AFTRA brokered with the ATA.

With their inferior minimums and residual freebies, not only has AFTRA poached virtually all of the sitcoms, but also unless our SAG leadership steps in and says “enough is enough,” the same thing is going to occur on basic cable one hour dramas.

The numbers here are just as disconcerting. In 2003/2004 all nine dramas were under the SAG Banner, the following year out 18 shows, SEVENTEEN were SAG, and only ONE was AFTRA!

But once again, thanks to AFTRA’s sellout of your talents for their gain, the picture of the hour-long cable dramas has changed drastically. Out of thirty-six shows TWENTY-THREE are SAG, and now TEN belong to AFTRA. Just three years ago ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of these shows were SAG Contracts, now SAG represents only 64% of those shows, while AFTRA now has 28% of the basic cable market on hour dramas. (8% unknown)

And the AFTRA Leadership, perhaps embolden by their unchallenged successful poaching of SAG Contracts, is apparently becoming even more emboldened.

They are demanding that they continue to have a fifty percent say in our Motion Picture and Primetime TV contracts–in which they, basically, have absolutely no stake. How many AFTRA Motion Pictures or Primetime TV shows have you seen lately? Exactly! (Basic Cable Shows are not part of the TV/Theatrical contract.)

Now, what could AFTRA’s leadership do, if SAG, in order to determine its own destiny, excluded AFTRA from the bargaining of its TV/Theatrical Contracts?

Well, apparently they have tacitly indicated to our SAG leadership, that if we don’t give into their demands of equal status in the 2008 TV/Theatrical Negotiations, during those negotiations, they will go behind our backs and low-ball our TV/Theatrical contracts.

If indeed, this is the case, I think every actor should know who would be behind this attempt to basically destroy our great guild.

Let’s have a look at those who would have to okay any such unconscionable power-grabbing maneuver.

First, here is AFTRA’s NED, Kim Hedgpeth, who would spearhead such a hijacking of SAG’s TV/Theatrical contracts.

And here are those who would be her accomplices in such a sellout.
AFTRA National Officers: Seated from left, Dick Kay, Catherine Brown, Roberta Reardon, Shelby Scott, and Lainie Cooke. Standing, from left, Bob Butler, Matt Kimbrough, Holter Graham, Bob Edwards, Denny Delk, Ron Morgan, and Jim Ferguson.

And click here for the names of AFTRA National Board Members who would also have to authorize any attempt to hijack our TV/Theatrical contract negotiations, by undercutting your wages and residuals!


In fairness to a FEW people on that list, here are some that I know would NEVER cut actors throatsand would never vote for any jurisdictional maneuver that could potentially destroy our guild. They are supporters of actors; Ivy Bethune, Raza Burgee, Sumi Haru and Paul Napier.

Are there others on the Board that wouldn’t be party to such an extortive move against SAG, I really don’t know? If you know one of those listed as an AFTRA Officer or board member, ASK HIM/HER.

In the meantime, perhaps, some of the trade paper reporters, or the LA Times, might ask AFTRA’s NED Hedgpeth, if AFTRA would resort to such tactics if SAG ends Phase One–in order to determine its own destiny in regards to ITS contracts.

If they should get a response, I can guarantee you one thing. It wont be a straight one! AFTRA leadership hasn’t been straight about this matter for a long time.

Hell, they wont even let their own members get copies of all their Basic Cable Contracts.

A.L. Miller SW Editor & Chief WOOF !

You know, the Ol’ Dog was just looking at the photo and names of those broadcaster and voice-over artists, who would have to “okay” any attempt to hijack our TV/Theatrical contracts, and all I could think was “Are You Frikking Kidding Me?” Get real, does anyone think that our SAG leadership. or actors would sit idly by while such an attempt to destroy the great Screen Actors Guild–by taking away its contracts, along with their minimums, residuals, and P&H?

If AFTRA’s leadership makes any such attempt to sell out our membership to the lowest bidder, they will have opened a Pandora’s box of angry reactions that could virtually bring down their union. And that would indeed, be most unfortunate.

If AFTRA’s Leadership’s dumb enough to underestimate the fiery will of our membership, and dumb enought to ignore SAG’s proud seventy plus year history of standing in solidarity against ANY entity that would try to destroy their beloved guild, they will be in for a rude awakening. (Picture a thousand SAG Members Picketing AFTRA and it’s Leadership!)

In case that you have forgotten that we are the greatest actors guild in the world, with the biggest stars and the proudest tradition, here is a reminder.

SAG is the most powerful actors union in the world. It’s time that it starts to act like it.

*That actors “make too much money” was the based on the gist of Former AFTRA President Susan’s Boyd’s comments in an email that was posted on the SAG Watchdog.



Watchdog Exclusive: More AFTRA Cutthroat Contracts.

April 19, 2007 (19:05) | 2007, SAG Politics | By: Arlin Miller


The unconscionable irony here is that the Ol’ Dog is doing an article which posts contracts that effect all AFTRA members–and it’s an exclusive.

Yep, AFTRA doesn’t want its members to know how bad that they are screwing actors, so they are keeping them a secret.

Let’s look at them, and you’ll understand why.

First, here’s excerpts from the “Army Wives” Contract that appears on the Lifetime Network.

Except as modified by our “cutthroat” friends at AFTRA, this contract is under “Exhibit A,” which means a day player rate of $759 dollars. But unlike the SAG Basic Cable contract, in which residuals began on the first rerun, the AFTRA contract gives away FIFTEEN FREE EXHIBIT DAYS. This means that during those fifteen days the show can be run as many times in a 24 hour period as possible-which virtually guarantees the actor will not receive a penny in residuals the first year.

The Ol’ Dog has been informed by a knowledgeable source that generally the format is one in which the show will run twice on each of those 15 days. This includes the original showing followed by an encore performance.

So, how much would an actor receive for those thirty rerun plays under a SAG Contract?

*money785 dollars !!

The truth is that many of these cable shows never get past the first year! And so, under an AFTRA contract, the actor most probably will never get a single residual check.

Therefore, “residuals” that our predecessors went on strike to get, and the “residuals” that many of our SAG members depend on to survive, have, in many instances, been eliminated by AFTRA’s leadership under these contracts . This in their quest to demonstrate, what, then, President Connolly stated, in January 2006, was “AFTRA’s readiness and resolve to organize the digital markets of the 21st century proof positive that AFTRA is the future in media.”

Actually, the only thing that these contract prove, is that AFTRA will do what ever it takes to put money in their coffers–no matter, how many actors throats they have to cut in the process.

Oh, and you remember how former AFTRA President Susan Boyd, in her last mean Ol’ Memo, bragged about holding the line on background actor caps? (The following from the Army Wives Contract)

Hmmm, so, it’s apparent AFTRA ain’t HOLDING the line on Background Actor Caps, but rather FEEDING its Background Actors a line.

The scary thing about the “Army Wives” Basic Cable Contract is that it is one of their better ones.

The Ol’ Dog heard from one of our readers, who worked a Comedy Central Basic Cable sitcom entitled “American Body Shop,” and was paid only $590 dollars for his days work. And, no, he won’t receive any residuals for the first year. You see, this contract also gives away 15 Free Exhibit days.

Under SAG’s Basic Cable Contract, with a day player minimum of $759 dollars and a 30 residual play total of $785.57, an actors pay for the first year, instead of being $590 dollars, would be $1544.57 dollars. Not only could that extra money be the determining factor on whether an actor made his SAG P&H, but, for that matter, whether he could make it at all.

Now, you ain’t gonna believe this but it gets even worse. Under AFTRA’s Nickelodeon “deal,” an actor could be called in to work under-five for two days for $341 dollars, but, but it ain’t all bad. AFTRA’s leadership is bragging that, now instead of giving up 30 free exhibition days, they have negotiated them down to only TWENTY.

Yep, it’s like AFTRA NED Kim Hedgpeth bragged in the trades the other day, AFTRA negotiators are the best in the world.

A.L. Miller SW Editor & Chief WOOF !

Look, let’s face it our residual payments on cable are pretty bad, and they ain’t gonna get any better soon, as long is AFTRA cutting our throats with their cutthroat contracts.

You need to tell our leadership, its time to put a stop to this Thievery NOW !!



Suspicious Timing: the “Hit Piece” that blasts SAG NED Doug Allen!

April 19, 2007 (19:05) | 2007, SAG Politics | By: Arlin Miller

I entitled this post Suspicious Timing because the timing of the front-page article, featuring SAG NED Doug Allen, about a suit against the NFLPA/Players Inc. is, ah, well suspicious. Hey, nobody ever accused me of not being clever.

Look, this is an old story that came out in February when this suit was filed, and suddenly it’s front-page news in the Hollywood Reporter? And what is really suspicious is the fact that the story is a hit piece on Mr. Allen, who was not even named in the suit, with the bogus implications that he and his wife received exorbitant, inappropriate salary increases because of their involvement with the Player’s Inc. enterprise.

“According to Labor Department filings, Allen’s union compensation totaled $1.9 million during the 2005-06 reporting period, representing a fourfold leap from the previous reporting period.”

(HR article 8/1/07)

You would think that someone on The Hollywood Report staff would have enough sense and expertise to realize that compensation received by an employee, especially one of Mr. Allen’s position and twenty years of service, would reflect more than just his salary, when he voluntarily leaves an organization.

The fact of the matter is that his final years compensation included not only his salary, but his P&H package for his decades of service.

And pardon me, but common sense tells you that you don’t leave a job where your salary tripled in the last year to $1.9 million dollars to take a job for around $500 thousand dollars. And don’t tell me he left because of this suit. He accepted the SAG job in October of 2006, the suit was not filed until February of 2007.

So why is this six month old story suddenly being rehashed in a couple of the trades along with a negative emphasis on SAG’s NED ? Well, here’s the Old Dog’s take on it. Let’s face it, this is a Company town, and Mr. Allen has shown himself to be a smart, authoritative advocate for SAG who is willing to stand up to the company!

As, Lew Wasserman said, “a compliant union is a good union,” and, thus far, NED Allen has shown no tendencies of his two predecessors in that regard. He has indicated a willingness to stand up to the ATA, AFTRA who is undercutting our contracts, and our employers. This sort of determination, not only flies in the face of those in our union who want to “go along to get along” but also in the face of our adversaries “who have been use to having their way with us,” so to speak, for the last several years.

Is it coincidence that this negative piece, resurrected, re-hashed, and revised, on NED Allen, so closely followed last weekend’s plenary, in which those who did not get their way, left angry at not only Hollywood’s board, but SAG’s NED Allen? You think some disgruntled board member could have promoted the story to The Reporter in some way or another. Naw! They just happened to publish it SIX MONTHS after the fact!

Not only did the actions taken at the plenary, giving SAG parity with AFTRA, anger those compliant members from NY, the branches and AFTRA, but you know it didn’t make our employers any to happy. After all, those who generally go along with them in negotiation, suddenly have become neutralized to some extent, and that, of course, neutralizes employer’s agenda to the same extent. And, who will they try and neutralize? * I think you will be seeing more of these negative pieces about Mr. Allen, especially if he continues his focus on protecting and improving the lot of our members.

Here is one of the original articles on the lawsuit story that came out several months ago. Read it, and then compare it to the story that appeared in yesterday’s trades. (That story is posted on the Watchdog in the post previous to this one.)

NFL union asks that suit be dismissed
April 4, 2007
CBS SportsLine.com wire reports

n The NFL Players Association’s licensing arm is asking a court to dismiss a suit accusing it of inadequately representing 3,500 retired players.

Players Inc., which handles licensing agreements for the NFLPA, announced Wednesday that it had filed the action.

The suit was filed in February by Bernie Parrish and Herb Adderley. It alleged that Players Inc. has done little to secure licensing deals with clothing manufacturers, video game makers and other venues and also seeks class-action status to represent the 3,500 retired players, which it says may be owed “tens of millions of dollars.”

Parrish was a defensive back with the Cleveland Browns and Houston Oilers from 1959 to 1966. Adderley was a cornerback for the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys from 1961 through 1972. The lawsuit claims that $7 million was given to 358 retired players in 2005, meaning a small percentage of players have been compensated.

The union said in a statement that its motions to dismiss are based on what it called “the frivolous nature of the suit.”

It also sought sanctions against the firm that fired the suit, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. The union claims the firm is “apparently taking the lead in establishing a commercial entity called ‘Retired Professional Football Players for Justice,” which will compete directly with Players Inc. for the licensing of former NFL players’ names and images, and thus has interests that are directly adverse to the purported class they seek to represent.”‘

Manatt lawyer Ronald Katz said the law firm is simply the company’s outside counsel and that “we have no economic interest in this.” Further, Katz said the company is a nonprofit cooperative, rather than a for-profit commercial entity.

Katz also denied the union’s accusations that the lawsuit was filed to harass the players association.

The players union also asked that the case be transferred from San Francisco to a federal court in Virginia or the District of Columbia, where the union and Players Inc. are based.

The Associated Press News Service

As you can see, Mr. Allen was not even mentioned in the article. And what a Coincidence, the story in the Hollywood Reporter is being used as ammunition to attack Mr. Allen on the Internet Bulletin boards.

He is being assailed for not informing the board about this lawsuit! A suit which wasn’t much of a secret, since it had appeared in not only the New York Times, USA Today, and hundreds of Associated Press Outlets around the country.

A suit filed by two players with the assistance of a company in competition with Player’s Inc. A suit, in which he is not named, and which occurred several months after he had accepted his position with SAG.

These attacks on the Intenet, for the most part, are being promulgated by an anonymous poster with an obvious connection to the USAN linked SAG Firebird website.

His/Her contention is that Mr. Allen should have informed the board about the nationally reported suit because of Mr. Allen’s suggestion that SAG form a Task Force to explore the possibility of forming a SAG entity similar to the NFLPA’s Player’s Ink. An organization, whose purpose would be to promote itself, and benefit, to the extent the NFL Player’s Association has benefited to the tune of *moneySEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS!

Look, perhaps these former players have a righteous suit, we’ll have to see how it plays out in the courts. In the meantime, the lawsuit attests to one thing, the concept is a sound one. Let’s face it, enterprises that fail, aren’t usually sued for a share of the profits.

A.L. Miller SW Editor & Chief WOOF !