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Screen Actors Guild to lay off 8% of its staff

April 20, 2009 |  1:36 pm

Hollywood's largest actors union is cutting 8% of its staff in the face of investment losses and declining membership dues.

The Screen Actors Guild plans to cut about 35 workers from its payroll to close a $6.5-million deficit in the union's fiscal 2009 budget. The cuts span several departments and includes those who work in the union's organizing and information technology departments, according to people familiar with the matter. Affected workers will be notified this week. SAG has about 440 employees.

David White, interim director of the Screen Actors Guild, briefed board members on the planned layoffs on Saturday when they approved the union's annual $60-million annual budget. White told board members the cuts were needed to balance the budget and leave enough cash in reserves to cover at least six months of operations.

The guild's income stream has been hit on two fronts: investment income, which is down sharply due to the turmoil in stock markets, and membership dues, which are tied to how much actors earn.

Fewer actors have been working as studios curtail production on movies and TV shows. SAG also has lost work to its rival union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, whose labor contracts now dominate prime-time TV pilots.

At the same time, SAG's expenses have risen sharply. Over the last two years, the guild has added 100 people to its staff, partly for organizational outreach activities.

The Writers Guild of America, West,  recently cut 10 % of its staff to close a budget shortfall, which guild officials blamed on investment losses and a sharp falloff in jobs for writers during the last year, when the guild waged a 100-day strike.

-- Richard Verrier