HOLLYWOOD -- On the cusp of a crucial strike authorization vote by members of the Screen Actors Guild, Hollywood's biggest union is wrestling with rising discontent among its members over the prospect of an imminent showdown with the studios.
The union representing 120,000 actors is
spending more than $100,000 on an "education campaign" to muster
support for a strike authorization vote, which union leaders say is
necessary to give them leverage in negotiations with studios that have
gone nowhere for months. The sides are sharply at odds over how actors
should be compensated in the digital era.
has a long history of internal bickering. The union's hard-line and
moderate factions have been wrangling for much of the last year over
negotiating strategy and an ill-fated campaign to defeat the AFTRA
accord. But the tensions reached a tipping point last week when SAG's
New York board publicly took the unusual step of calling on the union
to scrap a planned strike authorization vote, citing the deteriorating
SAG leaders faced a near open revolt from New York division members Monday night during a testy town hall meeting in Manhattan.
a raucous three-hour meeting, SAG members said the union remained more
divided than ever. New York members used the forum to lambaste the
union's leadership for its handling of the contract negotiations.
Alec Baldwin said after he left the New York meeting that the current
leadership had failed and should step down from the negotiating
"Nothing against them personally," he said. "I
respect them. I think they did the best that they could. I'm just very
curious why three other major unions came to terms with the [studios]
and we haven't. We're not negotiating effectively because we are too
fragmented ourselves. . . . They have failed as negotiators."
the meeting, an exhausted-looking SAG President Alan Rosenberg emerged
saying he remains just as determined as ever to hold a strike
authorization vote and blamed the internal divisions on a historical
divide within the union.
"There's always been a war between
New York and Los Angeles, and it's tragic," he said. "I think they had
the room pretty much stacked against us. . . . [The studios] know about
the differences between New York and L.A. and they just wait for us to
disintegrate. As long as we have this refusal to march together, we are
going to be hard-pressed to make a good deal on any contract."
New York members got a boost Monday when more than 130 actors --
several of whom also are producers -- including Tom Hanks, Glenn Close,
Rob Lowe and George Clooney, called on the national board to reconsider
the planned strike referendum, which is scheduled to begin over a
three-week period starting Jan. 2.
The high-profile actors
endorsed a letter that Rhea Perlman and her husband, Danny DeVito,
recently wrote to SAG's officers calling on the union to accept an
imperfect agreement and save the fight for a later day when the union
has more leverage to get a better contract.
included many of the same celebrities who backed the dissident group
known as Unite for Strength that won key seats on the national board in
recent board elections, tilting the balance of power away from a
hard-line group that had backed Rosenberg.
In the tug of war
for high-profile support, SAG announced its own "solidarity campaign."
The union said about 50 actors -- including Mel Gibson, Martin Sheen,
Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook and former SAG President Ed Asner -- had signed
a "statement of support."
"We must arm our negotiating committee
with the collective unity and strength of the Screen Actors Guild
members," the statement read. Some of the actors, including Asner and
Sheen, have recorded video testimonials that will debut on the union's
Nonetheless, the split among high-profile actors comes
at a bad time for SAG leaders, potentially undercutting their efforts
to present a united front as they seek to wrestle for better contract
terms from the studios.
Doug Lory, a former New York board
member and national board alternate, said the mood inside the Manhattan
meeting room was "angry and exasperated and confused and passionate. .
. . It's fair to say that the large majority of the people in the room
are not comfortable with the national leadership," adding that he
believes both Rosenberg and SAG Executive Director Doug Allen should
resign. "I have no faith or confidence in their capacity to lead us
through a strike."
Rosenberg said neither he nor Allen planned
to step down from the negotiating committee. He acknowledged that the
vehement opposition among the New York members to a strike vote, along
with the letter released by the A-list actors opposing a strike, made
it "really difficult" to get the requisite 75% needed for a work
Ultimately, the national board has final say before a walkout can occur.
like the membership, the board is divided. New York board members --
who have been especially critical of the strike vote plans -- account
for 14 seats on the 71-member national board.
Rank-and-file members appeared conflicted as well.
"I'm not sure how I feel," said actress Eva Kaminsky as she headed into
the New York meeting. "I'm sort of split in the middle."
said she "sort of feels like it's my duty" to support a strike
authorization, then noted that she was handed a flier outside the
meeting urging her to "vote no!"
"I was like, wait a minute, aren't we supposed to be just listening?" she said. "There are a lot of really divisive feelings."
Hanks, Clooney and Other A-Listers Against SAG Strike
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