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SAG move sparks internal dissent

June 13, 2008|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

A push by the Screen Actors Guild to defeat a recent accord negotiated by a rival union has touched off an internal rebellion.

New York members of SAG's national board took the unusual step Thursday of openly criticizing their leaders over a decision to launch an "educational campaign" against a contract negotiated by the smaller American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Citing what it says are shortcomings in the AFTRA accord, SAG's national executive committee last week narrowly approved a plan to persuade 44,000 joint card holders to vote down the agreement.

But in a statement, the New York members said the action was not authorized by SAG's full board and would waste as much as $150,000 in guild funds. They said it represented an "unconscionable attempt to interfere with the internal business of a sister union" that would "forever tarnish our image as a union."

The New York division represents about 26,000 of SAG's 122,000 members and holds 14 seats on SAG's 71-member national board. Members of the guild's regional branches in Georgia and Chicago have voiced similar objections to the SAG campaign.

"It's inexcusable," said Todd Hissong, president of SAG's Chicago branch. "It's against the entire spirit of unionism."

The dominant actors union has a long history of fractious relationships and infighting among leaders and members. But the current dust-up comes at a particularly delicate time, when the union is in crucial negotiations with the studios.

SAG's contract expires June 30, but talks with studios have made little headway since AFTRA announced its deal last month. The federation's agreement inflamed the larger union, which believes AFTRA caved in on important issues. Actors and studios are increasingly worried that a new deal is far off.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on Thursday accused SAG leaders of seeking to "drag out these negotiations," pursuing unreasonable pay demands and having a "cavalier attitude about the consequences of a potential strike."

SAG blamed the studios for limited progress in the talks and accused them of seeking to "sow dissension" within a union that was united in its efforts toward "successfully concluding these negotiations."

AFTRA's pact is modeled on one negotiated by Hollywood's directors and writers. Although the agreement includes some pay raises for actors, SAG leaders say it doesn't address key goals, including raising residuals for actors from the sale of DVDs and giving them a say over how products are pitched on TV shows.

On Thursday, SAG leaders outlined their beef with the AFTRA accord in a meeting with about 50 talent managers. "There was a lot of skepticism," said talent manager Pam Thomas. "We wanted assurances there would be no strike and they didn't give us that."

Others were more sympathetic to SAG leaders. "Every personal manager should support them," said Rick Siegel, citing concerns that AFTRA's contract would be less beneficial to actors.

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richard.verrier@latimes.com

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