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Thesps act up against AFTRA

Prexy Rosenberg's allies very much against a merger

After sacking CEO Greg Hessinger, what’ll SAG do for an encore?

Prexy Alan Rosenberg says the ouster of Hessinger and three execs on Oct. 23 simply reflects SAG members wanting the Guild to be more aggressive with employers. But Hessinger’s firing — five months into a four-year deal — also portends a much more hostile stance toward sister union AFTRA.

The two guilds have been battling for six decades over jurisdiction and the volatile question of a merger. Rosenberg and his Membership First allies are very much against a merger, on grounds that it would dilute SAG’s unique status as an actors’ union and present massive problems in combining health and pension plans.

For the more confrontational SAG leaders, Hessinger carried the stigma of having led AFTRA for the last five years and pushed hard for the failed merger in 2003. The last straw was his hiring of two AFTRA execs last month.

So here’s what’s likely to be on tap:

n SAG will probably cease joint operations with AFTRA in Atlanta, Bethesda, Boston, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco and set up slimmed-down outlets in those locales. AFTRA will be forced to cut back or close in those cities.

n SAG and AFTRA will poach each other’s jurisdiction on TV shows shot on tape or digital, leading to a “race to the bottom” via lowered rates. SAG has jurisdiction over shows shot on celluloid.

n SAG will attempt to lessen AFTRA’s representation on the upcoming commercial contract negotiations from the mandated 50% to a figure in line with the 10% that AFTRA earns on that contract, which expires in October 2006.

n SAG reps in New York and the branches — out of power for the first time in four years — may try to gain support to split SAG in two, much like the WGA.

The likely prospect of significantly less stability for the town’s performer unions is profoundly discomforting for studios, nets and agents.

Hessinger’s firing, coming a month after the WGA West kicked exec director John McLean to the curb, is a clear signal that the Guilds are serious about getting much tougher with everyone.

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