SAG taps playmaker

Allen in the game for Guild

In a rare show of unity, leaders of the Screen Actors Guild have tapped NFL Players Assn. exec Doug Allen as national exec director and chief negotiator.

The oft-fractious SAG national board approved Allen’s appointment unanimously Saturday and gave the former Buffalo Bills linebacker a standing ovation at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel. Allen will start work Jan. 8 under a three-year deal.

The rousing reception came after Allen gave a speech stressing taking a tough stance at the negotiating table and pledging to bring back SAG’s oversight of talent agents. Guild prexy Alan Rosenberg, who headed the search committee, told Daily Variety that he was particularly pleased about Allen’s background in dealing with performers outside the world of show business.

“Doug is going to bring a fresh perspective,” Rosenberg said. “I love the fact he’s a former football player who understands what it’s like to be a performer. And he’s intensely committed to the cause of advancing workers’ interests.”

Move by SAG comes three months after Allen was passed over for the top exec slot at the WGA West as David Young was promoted internally instead.

Hollywood labor execs expressed initial support for Allen, who’s second in command at the 1,000-member players union. They noted that his extensive background in dealing with superstar athletes, their reps and pro football owners should serve him well in Hollywood.

Allen, who spent two seasons as an NFL player in 1974-76 after starring at Penn State, told Daily Variety that he was impressed with the reception from SAG leaders during meetings Saturday and Sunday.

“It was a very lively and engaging conversation,” he added. “I felt a real connection with them.”

Rosenberg expressed confidence that Allen, who’s been assistant executive director of the NFLPA for almost 20 years, can work out a deal with the town’s top talent agencies that would once again give SAG oversight over tenpercenters. Guild’s agency franchise agreement with most top agencies expired in 2002 after members voted down a revamp of ownership restrictions between agents and production companies.

Allen refused to comment on the substance of his remarks to the SAG board but made it clear that he’ll bring an aggressive approach to contract talks. “A bad contract is worse than no contract at all,” he told the board.

Rosenberg noted Allen will be joining SAG at a time when it’s launching preparations for negotiations on a new film-TV contract. Current pact expires in July 2008, but the perceived shift away from moderation among SAG leaders has already alarmed studios and nets.

“Doug Allen’s tenure with the NFLPA and its professional membership provides the unique perspective that we have been searching for over the last year,” Rosenberg said. “Allen is the perfect executive to lead us into our 2008 negotiations from a position of strength and knowledge, and the right person to continue the unification so vital to our union.”

Allen’s work with the NFLPA dates back to its 1987 strike, which saw the org return to work after a month after its walkout, then decertify in order to pursue antitrust litigation to win free agency for its members. Owners eventually agreed to free agency in exchange for salary caps; the NFLPA reconstituted itself as a union in 1993 with a labor agreement that’s been extended five times since.

Allen also indicated in his remarks Saturday that he plans to address the issue of SAG’s overlapping jurisdiction with the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. AFTRA’s been signing new contracts at lower rates than SAG’s on TV shows shot with digital cameras.

Rosenberg noted that Allen had founded Players Inc., the marketing and licensing subsidiary of the NFLPA, and has served as president of that org since 1994. “I believe that Doug will be able to open millions of dollars of revenue streams for SAG,” he added.

The vote for Allen comes after several years of contentiousness in the SAG boardroom over the guild’s top exec. SAG’s Hollywood reps battled extensively with CEO Bob Pisano during his three-year tenure, which ended early last year, and a bitterly split SAG board fired Pisano successor Greg Hessinger last fall, weeks after Rosenberg and his allies came to power.

Since then, chief financial officer Peter Frank has served as interim exec director, the SAG board has eliminated the CEO position, and Rosenberg’s leadership has come under fire by former allies upset over what they perceive as a lack of aggressiveness.

Santa Clara U. law professor Steve Diamond had been the leading candidate last spring but couldn’t come to terms on a deal.

Rosenberg first met with Allen during the mid-summer when Allen was in the running for the WGA West exec director job. Once the WGA West board opted for promoting David Young in August, the SAG search panel focused on making a deal with Allen.

Allen will relocate from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles. Frank will become chief administrative officer-chief financial officer in January.

Allen was married in 1991 to Pat Allen, who’s been exec VP of Players Inc. since its founding. She recently announced her retirement.

In other action Sunday, the SAG board agreed to join the AFL-CIO’s Industry Coordinating Committee for Arts Media and Entertainment with 90% endorsement. Opposition had emerged over concerns that if SAG became part of the ICC, the other 10 unions would be able to dictate the guild’s policies and strategies, but supporters insisted such a scenario won’t take place.

Late Sunday, SAG leaders approved asking union members for a dues increase, the first since 1999. The proposal calls for base dues to increase from $100 to $116 per year, while the Guild’s initiation fee would rise from $1,474 to $2,211. Additonally, actors earning more than $500,000 annually would pay 0.25% dues on earnings up to $1 million. SAG said the additional funds are needed for improving services like residuals processing, organizing, a new tech department, and future contract campaigns.

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