Reflecting a key shift in the balance of power in the Screen Actors Guild, the union's negotiating committee Wednesday punted on authorizing a strike vote, leaving the matter up to the guild's newly configured national board.
In an 11-2 decision, the union's negotiation committee recommended that the national board authorize a strike vote among the guild's 120,000 members, saying such a move was "necessary to overcome the employers' intransigence" in contract negotiations. Talks have been at a standstill since the actors' contract expired June 30.
The move appeared to be as much an intra-guild political maneuver as a message to the studios that the negotiating committee was holding fast on its demands over how much actors should be paid for their work when it is distributed over the Internet.
Although the negotiating committee could call a strike vote on its own, taking such an action probably would have sparked a backlash from the national board, which has the authority to disband the committee.
That prospect became a distinct possibility last month when dissidents from the union's Hollywood division were elected to the 71-member board, potentially putting the union on a more moderate course.
The new board will take up the issue Oct. 18, but the newly elected directors are not expected to support a strike authorization vote, which would be hard to achieve in the current economic climate.
If approved, members wouldn't be voting to strike per se, but would be giving their leaders authority to call a strike should they reach an impasse, which would occur when each side formally declared that negotiations were over. That hasn't happened yet.
The committee's recommendation comes two days after the studios rejected a call by SAG leaders to resume formal bargaining, which ended in early July.
"We've done all we can do to compromise and work with our employers and they've refused to budge," said Anne-Marie Johnson, a member of the guild's negotiating committee and a leader of the incumbent faction known as Membership First. "We can't negotiate with ourselves."
In a statement, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers reiterated its view that SAG should accept terms already agreed to by other Hollywood unions -- and suggested that financially fearful Americans should take in a movie.
"Is this really the time for anyone associated with the entertainment business to be talking about going on strike? Not only is the business suffering from recent economic conditions, but if ever there was a time when Americans wanted the diversions of movies and television, it is now."