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SAG dissidents get schooled

October 7, 2008 |  7:18 pm

Newly elected dissidents of the Screen Actors Guild got a lesson in union politics Monday night -- that the guild's welter of procedural rules makes it tough for them to have an immediate impact.

Actors elected under the "Unite for Strength" slate figured they were entitled to some representation on the union's National Executive Committee, composed of the top officers and elected officials within SAG, and which makes key decisions on guild strategy. After all, the dissidents won a majority of the 11 open Hollywood division seats on the national board. But winning a seat on the 71-member national board doesn't qualify the person for a spot on the powerful NEC.

Given their newfound clout, the dissidents sought a voting system that would guarantee them at least two of the 13 seats allotted to the Hollywood division on the NEC. That would give the dissidents, who include actors Amy Brenneman and Adam Arkin, greater ability to achieve their goals of breaking the logjam in contract negotiations with the studios and eventually merging with the smaller actors union, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists.

But their gambit went nowhere. At a meeting Monday night of the Hollywood board, newly elected board Chair Anne-Marie Johnson, a leader of incumbent group known as Membership First, concluded that the proposal was "out of order." The incumbents summarily elected their members to all 13 seats.

The dissidents, however, will have a chance to assert their influence on Oct. 18, when the national board meets. SAG's negotiating committee has recommended that the board seek a strike authorization vote from members. But don't count on it. The new Hollywood dissidents, along with their allies in New York and the regional branches, haven't reached a consensus, and many are skeptical that a strike authorization vote would be prudent, given the weakened state of the national economy.

-- Richard Verrier