Verrone and Rosenberg had forged fast ties. They visited sets, shared bargaining strategies and walked picket lines together. This week actors and writers staged a rally at Fox studios attended by more than 500 people.
SAG is a "powerful institution in this town," said the WGA's Young. "Their support has kept writers from being isolated during this struggle."
Last week Rosenberg and Allen invited Verrone and Young to a private dinner at an Italian restaurant on Melrose Avenue. Allen counseled Young and Verrone not to be intimidated by top TV writer-producers, known as show runners, who've threatened to go back to work if they fail to get a deal.
Allen compared the writers' situation to his own experience at the NFL. He likened the team owners to the studios, noting how they would pressure the quarterbacks to return to work during a strike. Allen's advice: Pay more heed to the linebackers -- the equivalent of rank-and-file writers.
Though some top writers have praised the Directors Guild of America contract, Rosenberg and Allen contend that it falls short because it excludes from union coverage low-budget content created for the Internet and offers meager residuals from shows sold or streamed online.
Actors, who rely heavily on residuals to carry them in the lean stretches between jobs, have complained that under the directors contract, a guest star on a one-hour network show would receive less than $100 when the show is rerun on the Internet, versus $3,300 for a network rerun.
SAG is especially unhappy that writers dropped their demand to increase residuals from DVD sales. Actors and writers have complained for years about their inability to improve a pay rate negotiated two decades ago, before home video sales boomed.
SAG could face competition from AFTRA, which has signaled that it is prepared to negotiate on its own. For 27 years the two unions have jointly negotiated their film and prime-time TV contracts, despite an often fractious alliance. SAG's board recently asked members to reject the long-standing agreement between the two unions that gives them equal votes at the bargaining table. SAG has long complained that it must give up 50% of the votes even though it accounts for the lion's share of actors' earnings. SAG wants its votes to be proportional to the union's economic clout.
Furthermore, SAG has complained that AFTRA has been offering cheaper contracts to producers in basic cable television that undercut SAG's own deals.
"I believe they would rather compete than coexist," Rosenberg said. AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon blasted SAG's actions as a violation of their joint agreement and said AFTRA's cable deals were in line with those of other unions. AFTRA represents 70,000 members, 44,000 of whom also belong to SAG.
"We are two separate institutions and we are not going to be a silent partner . . . relegated to the back bench," Reardon said. "It surprises me that this is the time the Screen Actors Guild has decided to wage a war with us."
The dispute has also reignited tensions between SAG's Hollywood and New York branches. The latter is more aligned with the moderates in AFTRA.
"The timing of this couldn't be worse," said SAG New York branch President Sam Freed. "The studios will be able to play one union off the other."
Times staff writer Andrea Chang contributed to this report.
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Screen Actors Guild at a glance
President: Alan Rosenberg
Executive director: Doug Allen
Secretary-treasurer: Connie Stevens
Membership: 120,000; 102,000 active paid
Headquarters: Los Angeles
Divisions: Hollywood, New York and 20 branches
Union affiliate: AFL-CIO
Jurisdiction: Covers working conditions, compensation and benefits for performers in film, TV, industrial videos, commercials, video games, music videos and other media.
How to qualify: Be in a principal or speaking role in a SAG film, video, television program or commercial. Also eligible are background actors who worked at least three workdays and paid-up members of an affiliated performers union.
Leadership: Rosenberg, an actor whose credits include "The Guardian" and "L.A. Law," is in his second term as president. Allen is a former pro football player who also worked for the NFL players union. Stevens appeared in "The Love Boat," "Fantasy Island" and many other shows.
Source: Times research