SAG drama ending soon: Strike that
When a group of actors supported by Tom Hanks and Sally Field won key seats on the national board of the Screen Actors Guild last month, many hoped the guild might finally find a way to break the logjam in contract talks with the studios. After all, the election gave moderates a slight majority over the incumbent and more hard-line faction known as Membership First.
But that optimism has been tempered by some harsh political realities facing the newcomers, who will face a tough decision Saturday when the 71-member national board meets for the first time since the election. The biggest issue on the agenda: deciding whether members should vote to grant strike authorization to their leaders.
Predicting the outcome is stumping even veteran SAG watchers. And the new moderate Hollywood board members from the Unite for Strength slate have been conspicuously quiet since SAG's negotiating committee recommended that the board approve a strike vote. Ned Vaughn, spokesman for the group, declined to comment. "Private Practice" star Amy Brenneman, the top vote-getter in the recent elections, could not be reached.
Conventional wisdom holds that moderates will reject the proposed strike authorization on the grounds that a positive vote would be extremely difficult to achieve during the current recession. If unsuccessful, it would also expose the union to a humiliating defeat.
But that's not a given. Some of the new Hollywood board members think opposing a strike vote would allow hard-liners to unfairly portray them as obstructionist, forcing them to the take the political heat for a problem they didn't create. That, in turn, could hurt their chances to secure further gains in future board elections and achieve their ultimate goal: merging with the smaller actors union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
No doubt, SAG leaders will reassure board members that voting for a strike authorization is not the same as voting to strike, that it will give them the leverage they need to close a deal and that the board will still have final say to call a walkout if all else fails.
Although it's unlikely, a strike authorization, which requires approval by 75% of voting members, is still a possibility despite the dire economy. The fact is, the vast majority of SAG's 120,000 members don't work regularly and have less to lose by a walkout than the working actors who comprise a small fraction of the guild.
Even if it passes, however, it's not clear what effect a strike authorization would have. Studio chiefs have flatly rejected SAG's cornerstone demand -- securing jurisdiction for all Web shows, regardless of budget -- arguing that doing so would alter a new-media framework already agreed to by writers, directors and actors who belong to AFTRA.
In other words, this drama won't end any time soon.
-- Richard Verrier
Photos: SAG President Alan Rosenberg and Executive Director Doug Allen (Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times); Amy Brenneman (Michael Buckner / Getty Images); Ned Vaughn (courtesy of the actor)