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Harper calls for SAG solidarity

Just say no to non-union projects, she sez

Tess Harper, a high-profile member of the Screen Actors Guild’s negotiating team, has implored SAG members to refuse work on non-union contracts, particularly on foreign projects.

“No union has ever gained ground without making a stand for what it believes,” Harper said in a message to the 98,000 guild members. “If we don’t stop running scared now, I believe that our union will be virtually useless in the next 10 years. Why should the owners of studios be any different than the owners of Nike?”

Harper, who was nominated for an Academy Award for “Crimes of the Heart” (1986), said such a campaign needs to be a grassroots movement starting with name actors, numbering less than 400, who carry enough clout to get projects greenlit. She noted that such a move by high-profile actors will benefit other SAG members on that project because they will also probably work under a guild contract.

“If they refuse to go to Canada or anywhere else without the protection of their union, the producers can’t sell the movie,” Harper said.

Mirrors Spacey’s appeal

The appeal is similar to one delivered two months ago by Kevin Spacey at SAG’s national membership meeting (Daily Variety, Jan. 15).

Both thespians targeted members who work on non-union jobs outside the U.S. in defiance of the guild constitution’s Rule One, which explicitly bars members from working for producers who are not signatory to SAG agreements, but the union’s enforcement has been lax when it comes to foreign work on films and TV.

“To successfully enforce Rule One, every working member of SAG has to agree to decline any offer of work in TV series, TV movies, miniseries and feature films that will not offer them a union contract,” Harper said.

At the January meeting, the 300 members present approved an advisory motion to SAG’s national board to step up enforcement of Rule One, under which violators can be fined, suspended or expelled after a trial board hearing.

Backlash feared

SAG insiders have said union staff has been reluctant to bring up members on Rule One charges — other than those related to last year’s commercials strike — because of the potential backlash that could lead to an increase in “financial core” filings, under which an actor resigns as an active member but can continue to work for SAG signatories.

Production has been booming in recent months, including abroad, as producers stockpile TV shows and films to ride out anticipated strikes by the Writers Guild of America this spring, after its May 2 contract expiration, and this summer by SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists after their June 30 pact expiration. Foreign territories are particularly attractive because of lower costs.

SAG has not yet set a date for negotiations to begin, but it is expected to hammer out its final contract proposal by the end of this month. Some union leaders have indicated they plan to push hard for more explicit “scope” language to beef up contract coverage of members working outside the United States.

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