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SAG faction urges caution in strike vote

Some supporters say an e-mail from the Unite for Strength group is a signal to oppose authorization.

December 03, 2008|Richard Verrier | Verrier is a Times staff writer.

In a sign of rising tensions within the Screen Actors Guild, the group representing a moderate faction of actors within the union is urging its supporters to think long and hard before casting a ballot for a strike authorization vote.

SAG leaders, citing the need for leverage in negotiations with Hollywood studios, recently said they would seek strike authorization from the union's 120,000 members. Talks have been logjammed for months.

The movie and television industry is bracing for the possibility of a second strike in a year -- this time by Hollywood's largest union -- which would have far-reaching economic consequences.

In an e-mail sent to about 2,000 supporters of Unite for Strength, the group that recently won key seats on SAG's 71-member national board, organizers Amy Aquino and Arye Gross questioned whether the union was moving too hastily toward a showdown with the studios.

"In these historically difficult economic times, every reasonable possibility for making a deal must be explored before considering a job action, and based on the media reports we've seen, we're concerned this hasn't happened," the actors wrote.

Aquino is a former SAG board member and is a supporter of former SAG President Melissa Gilbert.

Current SAG President Alan Rosenberg said the e-mail was ill-considered.

"When the federal mediator declared that the mediation had adjourned, there was very little else to say," Rosenberg said. "We made every effort imaginable to reach a deal with the [studios] and they were as immovable as they have been since the beginning of these negotiations."

Unite for Strength flexed its new clout in October by pushing for the mediation talks, which many predicted were doomed from the start because the sides were so far apart over how actors would be compensated in the digital era.

Tuesday's letter, however, stopped short of specifically recommending how SAG members should vote, reflecting the tightrope the new board members are walking between supporting their union in a time of conflict with the studios and living up to the expectations of those who elected them.

Nonetheless, the letter was interpreted by many of the group's supporters as a signal to oppose the authorization vote.

SAG is expected to send strike referendum ballots to members by mid-December, beginning a three- to four-week voting process. If the strike authorization is approved by 75% of voters, SAG could stage a walkout in early January, potentially disrupting Hollywood's awards season and schedules for movie filming.

The board, however, would have ultimate say before any strike could occur. Backed by high-profile actors, including Tom Hanks and Sally Field, Unite for Strength recently won five seats on the national board, giving moderates in the guild a slight majority over the incumbent group known as Membership First, which has backed the leadership.

Unite for Strength candidates strongly criticized the guild's handling of negotiations, in particular its battle with the smaller actors union the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

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richard.verrier@latimes.com

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