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SAG members, finally, approve contract

June 9, 2009 |  6:27 pm

Hollywood's largest actors union strongly endorsed a new film and TV contract, closing the chapter on a year-long dispute with the major studios.

The vote, which was expected to be close, drew a stronger show of support from the membership of the Screen Actors Guild, with 78% supporting the deal, and 22% opposing it.

The approval comes nearly a year after the guild's current contract expired and is largely similar to a deal the studios offered the union last fall. SAG's bargaining clout was hurt by the weak economy and a series of strategic missteps by the union's former chief negotiator, who was ousted in a boardroom revolt in January.

Although the contract was expected to be ratified, the vote puts to rest lingering fears in Hollywood that the entertainment industry would face another strike following last year's walkout by writers.

It could also help spur at least some independent film production that has been held up because of the dispute. The uncertainty had caused some insurance companies to stop issuing completion bonds -- ensuring that a film will be done on time and within budget -- that independent filmmakers depend on.

The contract was patterned after similar agreements negotiated last year by three other talent unions. It includes an immediate pay increase of 3% and for the first time gives actors residual pay for shows that streamed for free on websites like Hulu.

But SAG's members were sharply at odds over the terms. Stars lined up on either side of dueling campaigns. A group of A-list actors led by Tom Hanks and George Clooney backed the contract as the best that could be had in a difficult economic climate.

Another group that included former SAG President Ed Asner, Ed Harris and Martin Sheen blasted the agreement, saying it shortchanges actors for work that is distributed on the Internet.

Underscoring the divisions, the contract was supported by a majority of the board and the union's executive director, but opposed by the union's president, Alan Rosenberg, who vigorously campaigned against the contract.

Rosenberg was an ardent backer of former SAG executive director Doug Allen, who was ousted after a group of dissident actors won control of the board in elections last fall. They replaced him with veteran negotiator John McGuire and David White, the union's former general counsel.

--Richard Verrier