Breaking Down The SAG / AFTRA Squabble

There's nothing inherently sexy about the ongoing labor disputes between producers and writers, producers and directors, producers and actors and whatever other banal kerfuffles you care to conjure. But the SAG/AFTRA square-off pitting actors against producers and themselves is quite a tentpole-ready disaster in the making, setting up a showdown that could torch yet another slate of projects on Hollywood's horizon:

In the wake of Saturday's decision by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists to ditch its longstanding bargaining partnership with SAG on the feature-primetime contract, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers held off Monday on deciding which union it will sit down with first.
SAG, which earlier spurned offers to start negotiations in March, now contends it should be first up because it covers all film work and the lion's share of TV work done by thesps. SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg noted in a message to members that studios want to end the uncertainty over a possible strike, further motivating the AMPTP to start talks as soon as possible as the June 30 contract expiration looms.

The political dynamics here are much uglier than earlier squabbles, and they have potentially dire consequences. AFTRA, which represents a minority of actors on cable and network television, has basically wanted to break off from its SAG partnership for years. Rosenberg, despite warnings from A-list membership like George Clooney and Meryl Streep, delayed negotiating a new deal until producers would be forced to play ball or face a work stoppage. That misfire gave AFTRA the out it needed to both split with SAG and, through what looks like a good-faith gesture toward producers, earn increased presence among SAG-heavy television programs.

How? Rosenberg's arrogance will likely send producers to bed with AFTRA first, and the terms of that settlement will dictate what SAG stands to gain — if anything — as the June 30 deadline approaches. Without the bargaining leverage it shared with AFTRA, SAG's only remaining alternative is a strike — the likelihood of which just boomed as the union awaits the AFTRA deal. So you get a labor stoppage and a thespian civil war all in one.

We're not sprinting for high land just yet, which is probably why we can still hear whispers about sketchy studios preemptively pushing an increasing number of film projects toward development limbo. Be sure to tell us if you've heard the same.