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SAG approves contract

The Screen Actors Guild wins residuals for shows that stream on the Internet and a 3% pay raise. The contract passes in a landslide vote.

June 10, 2009|Richard Verrier

Hollywood's largest actors union strongly endorsed a new film and TV contract, closing the chapter on a yearlong dispute with the major studios.

The vote, which was expected to be close, drew a stronger show of support than anticipated from the membership of the Screen Actors Guild, with 78% voting for the deal and 22% opposing it.

Turnout was unusually high by SAG standards, with 35% of 110,000 union members casting ballots.

The approval comes nearly a year after the guild's last contract expired and is largely similar to a deal the studios offered the union last fall. SAG's bargaining clout was hurt by the weak economy and what critics called a series of strategic missteps by the union's former chief negotiator, Doug Allen, who was ousted in a boardroom revolt in January.

Though the contract was expected to be ratified, the vote puts to rest lingering fears in Hollywood that the entertainment industry would face another strike after last year's damaging walkout by writers.

It also could help spur some independent film production, which has been held up because of the dispute. The uncertainty had caused some insurance companies to stop issuing completion bonds, which guarantee that a film will be done on time and within budget, that independent filmmakers depend on.

The two-year contract was patterned after similar agreements negotiated last year with three other talent unions.

It includes an immediate pay increase of 3% and, for the first time, gives actors residual pay for shows that stream on websites such as Hulu that enable viewers to watch them free of charge.

SAG's members had been sharply at odds over the terms. Stars lined up on either side of dueling campaigns.

A group of A-list actors led by Tom Hanks and George Clooney backed the contract, saying it was the best that could be had in a difficult economic climate.

A group that included former SAG President Ed Asner and Martin Sheen blasted the agreement, saying it shortchanged actors for work that is distributed on the Internet.

Underscoring the divisions, the contract was supported by a majority of the board and the union's executive director but opposed by the union's president, Alan Rosenberg, who vigorously campaigned against it.

Rosenberg was an ardent backer of Allen, the former executive director, who was ousted after a group of dissident actors won control of the board in elections last fall. They replaced Allen with veteran negotiator John McGuire and David White, the union's former general counsel.

"I think members were ready to get back to work," White said.

"Members clearly felt that this is a deal that provides solid gains and lays a foundation for the future."

Adam Arkin, star of the "Chicago Hope" TV series and a SAG board member, said the contract secured important gains, including ensuring that SAG's next round of negotiations would line up with those of other talent unions. "This got our foot in the door in new media and put us on the right timetable," he said.

But Rosenberg, who had predicted that the contract would be voted down, said he was deeply disappointed. "This is a bad contract and I think it's going to have a really devastating impact on our members," he said.

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richard.verrier@latimes.com

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