More militant side wins vote over talks

Despite a bitter split in its leadership, the Screen Actors Guild is moving toward a tougher stance at upcoming contract negotiations.

The move — which took place at a contentious SAG board meeting Saturday — comes with companies increasingly concerned about a possible work stoppage by actors in July 2008, when the film-TV contract expires.

SAG and AFTRA jointly negotiate that contract, and SAG had not made any progress in persuading AFTRA to allocate more seats at the bargaining table to SAG, based on the notion that guild members generate the lion’s share of work. The idea had been opposed not just by AFTRA but by SAG moderates out of concerns that those in power at the guild tend to espouse a far more aggressive stance than AFTRA’s.

Hollywood reps won Saturday’s vote, which brought into sharp focus the ongoing internal split on the national board between Southern California leaders on the one side and their counterparts from New York and the regional branches on the other. The revamp changes how votes are counted within the guild’s negotiating committee, with the winning side allocated all the SAG votes in any split vote among the guild reps on the panel.

Under the new plan, Hollywood reps will have more clout in determining the direction of SAG’s negotiating positions — and presumably take a harder line than AFTRA reps. SAG executive director of communications Pamela Greenwalt would not confirm any details, noting the board had decreed the entire session confidential.

SAG hasn’t yet named its negotiating committee. It will hold elections in September; that contest will probably leave Hollywood’s Membership First faction with a narrow majority in the board room.

Saturday’s meeting also included a staff presentation on AFTRA signing new TV shows, including “Army Wives,” at lower rates than SAG.

SAG’s leaders also voted Saturday for compromise rather than war with AFTRA by reaffirming the 1981 “Phase One” agreement, under which the unions agree to joint negotiations of contracts in which both have jurisdiction. Some at SAG had been pushing to opt out of Phase One, but doing so might have created significant uncertainty for the upcoming contract talks.

SAG exec director Doug Allen told AFTRA earlier this year that the two unions needed to work out a better system of determining which union covers what, particularly in areas of shared jurisdiction such as TV shows shot on digital. Some SAG leaders have been angered over AFTRA agreements for lower-cost provisions such as free reruns on cable shows; AFTRA’s contention is that it should make these deals with cable networks to avoid producers going non-union.

Tensions have been running high between SAG and AFTRA on several other fronts. AFTRA recently announced that it has formed a strategic alliance with the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which hasn’t been shy about criticizing SAG policies in the past.

Several members of SAG’s Membership First faction — which took control of the guild’s board two years ago — ran for elected slots on the AFTRA national board during the spring, the Los Angeles board and as delegates to the national convention. Their beef focused on provisions for free reruns (dubbed “exhibition days”) on 30 cable shows covered by AFTRA such as “Dirt,” “Zoey 101,” “Hannah Montana” and “The Sarah Silverman Show.”

SAG has about 100,000 dues-current members while AFTRA’s total is about 70,000. About 40,000 performers belong to both unions.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more