Prexy calling for member input

Talent agents keep believing they have a done deal with the Screen Actors Guild.

But SAG president William Daniels, seeking to build consensus after declaring that SAG still has not finalized its ground-breaking agreement with agents, met Tuesday with several high-profile members to explore whether the union should grant expanded powers to agents.

Those attending the low-key three-hour meeting at SAG’s headquarters in Los Angeles included Warren Beatty, Robert Culp, Holly Hunter, Charlton Heston, Rod Steiger, Jon Voight and Alfre Woodard. Michael Douglas and Arnold Schwarzenegger were invited, but were unable to attend, and Daniels said he will try to organize similar meetings in the coming weeks.

The meeting came six days after the deal appeared to be completed.

On Feb. 15, SAG’s national board approved all but two parts of a 25-point proposal for a two-year waiver of SAG’s charter, leaving the remaining items for negotiation by its national executive committee. The Assn. of Talent Agents agreed the next day to all 25 points, leaving no items to negotiate, but Daniels and SAG national executive director Ken Orsatti have insisted the deal will not be concluded until SAG’s executive board approves at its March 7 meeting.

Orsatti has said the national board does not have the final authority in the matter, but the contention that the deal wasn’t finalized on Feb. 16 has perplexed many agents.

“The ATA is adamant that it has unilaterally agreed to all SAG’s counter-proposals,” said ATA executive director Karen Stuart. “We have an agreement. This is not a game we’re playing.”

Daniels said Tuesday his motivation in calling the meeting was to inform some of its most powerful members on the details of the waiver. “A lot of our members are not up to speed on it,” Daniels explained. “This will get some of our high-profile members involved so they know about it so if this deal is finalized, I don’t have a lot of people coming to me saying, ‘What the hell was that? I knew nothing about it.’ “

Agents had pushed SAG for many months to update the SAG rules on agents, such as allowing media and production companies to invest in agencies and vice versa, in order to enable agents to compete effectively with less-regulated personal managers.

The key meeting between the ATA and SAG took place in December, when SAG’s national board agreed to fast-track a series of ATA proposals.

Opponents of the waiver argue it allows agents to operate with conflicts of interest. But backers note that continued defections of agents to management companies could hurt SAG over the long run, and argue the waiver contains safeguards such as setting up performance funds to protect against defaults, and partnerships on key issues like runaway production.

“We believe that we’ve agreed to a number of good, cooperative programs and we’re anxious to put them to work,” Stuart said.

Armin Shimerman, who co-chairs SAG’s agents relations committee and has argued that changing the rules will keep the playing field level between agents and managers, provided most of the information during Tuesday’s meeting. Several other SAG officers, including recording secretary Karen Austin and national board member Todd Amorde, also attended.

“We discussed the issues back and forth, and they said they wanted to think about it,” said Shimerman, best known for his role as Quark in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

Most of the stars echoed that comment or declined to speak as they left the meeting. “Lots of questions and not so many answers,” said Heston, who served as SAG president between 1965 and 1971. “There was no conflict during the meeting, though.”

Daniels, a novice to SAG politics before being recruited to run last August, said he was not aware of any efforts to overturn last week’s approval by SAG’s national board. Aside from the executive committee voting “no” on March 7, a campaign to overturn could be launched if any national board member who had voted to approve the deal asked for reconsideration or by a referendum if 10% of SAG’s 97,000 members signed petitions.

Daniels, who was elected president in November following a campaign that attacked predecessor Richard Masur for lack of aggressiveness on contract negotiations, refused to say Tuesday whether he supported the waiver. “I don’t want to be prejudicial,” he replied.

Tuesday’s meeting also came less than a week after SAG made a move that could lead to more stars becoming involved in union politics by announcing it had lifted its 32-year ban on SAG members seeking office if they are also producers.

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