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SAG infighting erupts over contract negotiations

June 12, 2008 |  4:19 pm

A controversial push by the Screen Actors Guild to defeat a recent accord negotiated by a rival union has touched off an open rebellion within Hollywood's largest actors guild.

New York members of SAG's national board took the unusual step of openly criticizing their own leaders over a recent decision to launch an "educational campaign" against a recent contract negotiated by the smaller American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Citing what it said are shortcomings in the federation's accord, SAG's national executive committee - which includes the top officers of the union - narrowly voted approval last week to spend more than $100,000 in an effort to persuade 44,000 dual members to vote down the agreement.

But in a statement, the New York members said the action was not authorized by SAG's full-board and represented a "unconscionable attempt to interfere with the internal business of a sister union" that will "forever tarnish our image as a union."

The New York Division represents about 26,000 of SAG's 122,000 members and holds 14 seats on SAG's 71-member national board. Members of the guild's regional branches in Chicago and Georgia have voiced similar objections to SAG's campaign against the AFTRA deal, underscoring deep rifts inside SAG that could weaken its leverage at the bargaining table.

SAG's contract expires June 30, but talks with studios have ground to virtual halt since AFTRA announced an agreement that was modeled on one negotiated by Hollywood's directors and writers. AFTRA's 70,000 members won't vote on the contract until July 7.

Although the agreement includes some pay raises for actors, SAG leaders say its failed to meet several of their objectives, including securing an increase residuals for actors from the sale of DVDs and giving them a say over how products are pitched in television shows.

-- Richard Verrier