actors negotiation update – rollbacks & force majeure

the answer is, "never." and question is, "when is a good time to go on strike?"

we’ll take "but we’re getting screwed anyway" for 1000, alex.

skippy assures us he is not happy at the prospect of yet another hollywood strike, this time by his own union, the screen actors guild. but, he says, the producers are leaving him and his fellow actors little choice.

we will address the terrible, terrible aspects of the new contract offer being made by management in later writings, but today we want to specifically concentrate on the rollbacks that the producers are demanding that the actors accept in order to keep working.

the worst, by far, is the elimination of the force majeure (literally, "act of god") clause, which has been in effect in all sag contracts since 1937.

in a nutshell, force majeur gives the producers three options if a production is interrupted by anything other than the actors or producers actions to close it down. those options are (1) release the actors from the contract, (2) keep the actors on hold at half-pay, or (3) keep them at full pay (a rather uneconomic idea, one which nobody expects to happen).

for instance, if the production of say, house is stopped by an earthquake, flood, riot, or strike by another union (keep this in mind, we’ll talk about the past writers’ strike a little later in this post), then the current contract provides that:

the producer may suspend the performer’s services for a period of time not to exceed 5 weeks by paying the performer half of their salary. at the end of the five week period, the employer must either resume payment of full salary to the performer, or terminate the performer’s employment contract.

so hugh laurie and omar epps and all the contract players on house would still get half-pay while the producers try to get the production back up and running. at the end of 5 weeks, the producer must then either return the cast to full-salary or release them (a fancy way of saying, "you’re fired"), thus allowing them to seek work elsewhere.

the producers want this clause, which has been in every sag contract for nigh onto 70 years, eliminated from the new contract. this job protection is one of the foundations of salary safety for the highly-irregular career of professional actors.

so, that’s one rollback. but it gets worse than that, even on this subject alone.

remember that we asked you to keep the past writers’ guild strike in mind? well, when the writers went on strike a few month ago, the producers decided to envoke the force majeure clause. here’s nikki finke from nov. 2007:

from what i can glean, the casts of the office, 30 rock, bionic woman and battlestar galactica to name just a few shows on nbc and the scifi channels were informed thursday and friday that their contracts have been suspended. it’s because universal media studios has opted to exercise what’s known as the force majeure clause in their screen actors guild agreements.

the force majeure provision allows studios and networks to suspend sag members’ deals immediately once production on their shows has shut down.

other studios have done the same: at sony pictures tv, the casts of fox’s til death and cbs’ rules of engagement have been suspended, too…

studios suspending actors without pay and not outright terminating their contracts, which prevents them from finding work elsewhere, has sag pissed. per sag’s agreement, studios can opt to suspend members for five weeks with half pay; suspend them with full pay; or release them from their contracts. even if the actors are fired, they’re supposed to be immediately rehired under their original contract terms once production recommences.

some of those casts did get half-pay, but there are many, many actors who got "suspended" during the writers’ strike w/o pay, which is completely contrary to the force majeure clause of the current contract (not the new one being negotiated, negotiations whose breakdown may lead to another strike in the near future).

the salt in the wound of the new contract negotiations is that not only do the producers want the actors to eliminate force majeure completely, but also want a "get out of jail card" for the $60 million due to the casts that were suspeded during the writers’ guild strike. the producers want the absolution of their responsibility under the old contract to be actually put into the new contract.

another, lesser rollback (if there is such a thing) that the producers are demanding is the elimination of guaranteed meal breaks during production. that’s right, they don’t want to have to break for lunch after 5 hours of work, or dinner after another 5 hours. this gives a new meaning to the term, "starving actor." or rather, an old meaning, as one of the original reasons the screen actors guild formed to use collective bargaining back in the 30’s was the lack of meal breaks provided by the studios.

keep watching this space for further discussion of what the producers are demanding. in the meantime, here’s a quick pdf file showing what the producers are demanding vs. what the actors are asking.