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SAG may sink pact by rival

The dominant union contends that the AFTRA deal ignores actors' key demands.

June 07, 2008|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

Attempting to throw a monkey wrench into a new contract between the Hollywood studios and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the rival Screen Actors Guild is poised to wage a campaign to scuttle the pact that it contends sells actors short.

The unusual move, which is deepening divisions within the already notoriously fractious actors union, probably stands little chance of success. But it illustrates the awkward position that SAG finds itself in as a deadline looms to negotiate a new contract before its current one expires June 30.

SAG's national executive committee on Friday voted 13 to 10 in favor of launching an "educational campaign" to oppose the AFTRA accord unless the federation agreed to hold off on its membership vote until SAG completes its own negotiation. AFTRA officials summarily dismissed the plea, calling it "unprecedented interference in the internal affairs of another union."

With 122,000 members, SAG is the dominant actors union. But increasingly in the last year it has been skirmishing with the smaller and more diverse AFTRA, whose 70,000 members also include recording artists, radio announcers and actors who work in the less-glamorous fringes of daytime and cable television. The unions, like the Hatfields and the McCoys, have been fighting turf battles over which guild gets to represent TV shows.

Caught in the crossfire are 44,000 members who belong to both unions. SAG will target those dual members in an informational campaign that could cost more than $100,000.

SAG Executive Director Doug Allen said in a statement that the union "will be educating SAG members about the impact of the AFTRA deal on our negotiations and on our effort to secure the best possible contract for actors."

Although AFTRA's new contract achieved some pay gains for actors, SAG says it does not address key demands, including a boost in residuals that actors earn from the sale of DVDs and having consent over how products are pitched in TV shows and movies.

SAG faces heavy pressure from members, many of whom were hard hit by the three-month Hollywood writers strike earlier this year, to swiftly conclude an agreement with the studios. Yet, in crafting a better deal, SAG also risks making its contract more expensive for producers, thus opening a window for AFTRA to win new business with a lower-cost pact. The two unions have clashed heavily over jurisdiction for cable TV shows and now the battle is spreading into the big leagues of prime-time TV, which SAG dominates.

SAG President Alan Rosenberg told executives at Sony this week that he would work to defeat the AFTRA pact.

But that could be a tall order, given that union members rarely vote down a contract recommended by their leaders. What's more, SAG's strategy has angered its New York board members, who have been sharply at odds with the Hollywood faction that dominates the leadership.

"Asking dual cardholders to vote down a contract for one of the unions that they work under is possibly the most idiotic course to date," said Paul Christie, former president of SAG's New York division and a current national board member.

Efforts to torpedo AFTRA's contract got off to a bumbling start this week. SAG board member Susan Savage, an actress who has had roles on "Carnivale" and "Cold Case," wrote an e-mail to actors asking them to "vote down this horrible deal." She claimed that Hollywood heavyweights George Clooney and Tom Hanks called Rosenberg "directly to offer their total support."

But that was news to both actors, who issued statements flatly refuting the claims.

"This is a hoax, not true, a complete fabrication," Hanks said. Clooney said: "I have had no conversations with SAG concerning that issue."

Savage couldn't be reached.

Rosenberg said it was all a misunderstanding. He said he told Savage only that Clooney had conveyed overall support for the leadership.

"I never meant to say or imply that Clooney was a supporter of our stance toward AFTRA," Rosenberg said.


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