Candidates differ on agent issue

HOLLYWOOD — Balloting in SAG’s re-run election officially begins today, amid even more confusion than usual.

That’s because the election issue has become tied up with SAG’s monthlong negotiations with Hollywood’s talent agents over a new master franchise agreement.

Beyond agreeing to an informal extension of the expired agreement — which largely prevents the unshackling of agents taking significant investments from producers and distributors — both sides have locked down any news about negotiations.

As for a second campaign, SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert has declared that she is too busy because — among other tasks — she is working on negotiating a new deal between SAG and the Assn. of Talent Agents. A support group contends that Gilbert deserves credit for getting back to the bargaining table, though it fails to note that negotiations started less than a week before the Jan. 21 expiration.

“President Gilbert and this negotiating team understand that negotiations are about give and take and compromise, not the wishes of a small “inner circle” of advisors,” the unitedscreenactors site asserts.

Rivals differ on agent issue

But rival Valerie Harper continues to strongly oppose any easing of the current 10% financial-interest limit while noting that Gilbert has indicated she is willing to ease up on those limits.

“Any time it’s in the economic interest of your representation to insure the profitability of a producing entity in which it has an interest, your salary will be negatively affected,” Harper said. “That is not rocket science; it’s the plain, simple, economic truth.”

Harper’s ongoing opposition is likely to unnerve negotiators since she could be the new president on March 8, when balloting is completed. Gilbert asserted on the night she was elected that SAG’s members would have to approve any deal. So it’s difficult for observers to concoct a scenario where SAG and the ATA can cook up an agreement that would be approved by a majority of SAG’s 98,000 members — many of whom will reflexively oppose any deal that is perceived to benefit agents.

Dispute kicked up a notch

Still, it’s the Jan. 7 decision by the elections committee to order a re-run of the president, secretary and treasurer races that raises the temperature of any debate. Gilbert’s supporters have been attempting to paint the re-run as illegitimate and a waste of money; Harper’s allies contend the first election included multiple “serious” violations of SAG rules.

Harper and Mike Farrell, who won the 1st VP race in November, held an acrimonious impromptu debate on Michael Jackson’s KLAC radio show last week, dominated by multiple interruptions and assertions of “let me finish.”

Farrell, who has formally complained to the Labor Dept. about the re-run, called the violations “miniscule” and asserted there was no culpability of SAG staff. “You are diminishing the seriousness of the errors,” Harper shot back.

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