Guild topper Rosenberg defends firing

Screen Actors Guild president Alan Rosenberg, in his first official communication with members, has pledged the actors union will take a far tougher approach toward the industry.

In an email sent Sunday to the 100,000 guild members, Rosenberg said the SAG national board’s Oct. 23 firing of CEO Greg Hessinger was driven by the need to negotiate upcoming contracts more aggressively.

“Making a change like this is never an easy decision, and this one was no different,” Rosenberg said of the ouster. “Greg is an able and talented executive, and a committed unionist. But many members of your national board felt strongly that we needed a fresh start — a national executive director with new energy and new thinking who is fully committed to the priorities of your new leadership team, particularly with regard to our tougher approach to collective bargaining.”

Rosenberg and his allies in the Membership First faction gained control of the national board in last month’s election after a campaign in which they blasted SAG’s more moderate elected leaders, accusing them of accommodating employers in contract negotiations.

The Restore Respect and United Screen Actors Nationwide factions, which advocate a pragmatic approach to bargaining, had controlled the national board for the past four years under former prexy Melissa Gilbert’s tenure.

“In my campaign, I offered a simple and straightforward promise that I pledge to fulfill now as your president: to fight like hell to get actors their fair share and ensure Screen Actors Guild remains the great and powerful organization it always has been,” Rosenberg said in the missive. “I look forward to accomplishing these goals together, in solidarity.”

Gilbert’s allies had signed former AFTRA topper Hessinger in March to a four-year, $1.6 million deal as successor to Bob Pisano over the objections of Membership First.

Hessinger, who has threatened legal action if he’s not paid the rest of the money, may have sealed his fate after the election when he hired a pair of former AFTRA execs and an ad industry exec without consulting Rosenberg or his allies.

Rosenberg made no mention of the other three execs, who also were fired by the board, but held out an olive branch to those who opposed the dismissals.

“As someone who has spent much of my life fighting for causes in which I believe, I have the greatest respect for those who express an opposing viewpoint and for the rights of the minority,” he said. “I take great pride in the fact that this question was addressed through the fair and democratic process that represents the very best of our union. Our strength is, as it always has been, in that process and our unity.”

However, the ongoing backbiting at SAG shows no signs of abating any time soon, with Gilbert ally Mike Farrell sending out an angry message last week that repeatedly attacked Membership First on the issue of Hessinger’s firing. Farrell said his four years on the board had been marked by the opposition’s “dishonesty, intrigue, manipulation and underhanded political machinations.”

“We’re now going forward with a group in control that has broadcast to the industry through its devious ousting of Hessinger, whose sole failing is his penchant for honesty — something they obviously can’t abide — that SAG no longer feels bound to honor contracts,” Farrell said. “Do you think the producers are listening?”

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