Fran Drescher faces a test drive while the bigwigs seek a deal

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During her two years as president of SAG-AFTRA, Fran Drescher worked hard to bridge the factional divisions that had long plagued the union.

She promised in her campaign statement this summer that “member unity will be my greatest legacy,” and sought re-election. (She was re-elected with more than 80% of the vote.)

But as the SAG-AFTRA strike approaches its 100th day, Drescher faces her most challenging leadership test yet: Can she hold the union together long enough to deliver the “basic” deal she promised members?

A group of prominent actors, led by George Clooney, met with her and the union’s chief negotiator on Tuesday. Although celebrities were keen to offer support, the underlying message was that they were keen to get Hollywood back to work and were not confident the guild was on its way to doing so.

The group, which also included Ben Affleck, Meryl Streep and Scarlett Johansson, put forward a proposal to increase benefits for high-income actors and reshape the remainder so that they benefit the lower end of the income scale.

When celebrities were politely rejected, they could keep quiet. Instead, Clooney went public with his idea, a clear challenge to Drescher and the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee, and a potential sign that the union’s solidarity was beginning to weaken.

Drescher recorded an Instagram video on Thursday in which she explained that the idea of ​​Clooney’s dues would not work, is prohibited by federal law, and is not related to the issues at hand in the negotiations.

“Unfortunately it doesn’t hold water,” she said of his remaining proposal.

Drescher then tried to shift the focus back to the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — which represents the studios — and her own idea for a new form of residual broadcasting, which she envisions as a game-changer for actors.

“We’ve cracked the code on something. We’ve identified the flaw in this streaming model,” she said, saying CEOs will have to accept an “unprecedented compensation structure.” “It may not be easy. It may not be what they want. But it’s an elegant way to solve the problem so we can all get back to work in what will become the new normal.

SAG-AFTRA followed that up with a written memo to members Thursday evening, again thanking the Clooney group for its “ideas and support,” but explaining why those ideas didn’t work.

The memo also noted that celebrities are talking with studio heads, suggesting they may be trying to work around a negotiating committee.

“The fact that heads of networks, broadcast companies and studios are open to communicating with them directly is great,” the union said. “But executives should not think for one second that they can use the good faith of member envoys to distract us from our mission.”

The union also sent a clear message to representatives about how they can best help: “So, for now, we encourage all members to support our full package of proposals and come out to the picket line.”

Clooney’s group’s efforts should not be seen as undermining union solidarity, Duncan Crabtree Ireland, SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator, said in an interview Thursday.

“Different people may understand it differently,” he said. “But from my perspective, the conversations I’ve had with members across the spectrum of our membership have been: ‘What can we do to help advance this?’ And if they have great ideas, I definitely want to hear them.

The CEOs are also eager to get back to work, but they have concluded that as long as the union demands the remaining half-billion dollars in streaming per year — on top of the remaining streaming the actors already get and the percentage raises won by the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America — the talks won’t go away. to anyplace.

Privately, they complained that Drescher seemed to be campaigning to redistribute wealth, rather than get a practical deal.

Meanwhile, Drescher works to bring the members together and convince them to stay the course.

“This too shall pass,” she said Thursday. “But this is the moment in which we do not give in to pressure. This is the moment in which we stand tall and steadfast.”

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