Fight stems from move to institute bloc voting

Internal warfare has flared up at the Screen Actors Guild over how the thesp union’s approaching tough film-TV contract negotiations with the majors.

The ongoing dispute — likely to be Topic A at this weekend’s national board meeting — stems from SAG’s move last year to institute bloc voting among guild reps on its negotiating committee. Such a move that would give more clout to the more assertive Hollywood branch, which currently controls the national board and is allied with SAG president Alan Rosenberg.

The bloc voting policy’s designed to reduce the influence of AFTRA reps, who have 50% of the seats on the negotiating committee despite generating less than 10% of the earnings. But that stance has aggrieved both AFTRA and SAG moderates on the guild’s New York board, which announced Wednesday that it will oppose plans to move ahead on bloc voting on grounds that the policy violates the Phase I bargaining agreement between SAG and AFTRA.

“We are defending the guild constitution,” said Sam Freed, president of the New York division. “That document protects the interests of the membership and we are concerned that current actions by Guild leadership ignore those protections.”

Rosenberg fired back, asserting that the New York board doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

“The New York Division Board is not charged with interpreting the SAG Constitution & Bylaws,” he said. “The responsibility for the interpretation and the protection of our constitution falls solely within the purview of our national board of directors. Furthermore, Screen Actors Guild’s efforts to negotiate equitable representation with AFTRA on the joint bargaining committees for Phase 1 contracts is perfectly in keeping with our constitution and serves the bests interests of all SAG members, not a special interest political faction.”

SAG and AFTRA have been battling on several fronts in recent months. In October, SAG took a blistering shot at AFTRA for poaching contracts on cable shows and shilling for producers, prompting AFTRA to accuse SAG of trying to muscle its way into control of the smaller union.

AFTRA has long contended that SAG’s beef isn’t legitimate — that it’s entitled to organize any show within its jurisdiction, and that signing deals at lower terms is preferable to the shows being shot non-union or in Canada.

SAG reps about 120,000 thesps, while AFTRA has about 70,000 members; about 40,000 performers belong to both unions.

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