SAG sets second town hall meeting

Guild schedules strike meeting in New York

Amid growing worries about an actors strike, leaders of the Screen Actors Guild have been amping up their campaign to persuade its members to endorse a work stoppage.

SAG has scheduled a second town hall meeting next week in New York — where the reception’s probably going to be much chillier than in Hollywood. SAG national exec director Doug Allen and president Alan Rosenberg will host the two-hour evening confab next Monday at the Westin Times Square.

The guild toppers, in a town hall meeting Monday night in Hollywood, disclosed the strike authorization would be sent out to members.

The Gotham event should help gauge how SAG members will respond to the question of the authorization. Given the long history of disputes between the New York and Hollywood branches of the guild, support for a strike among Gotham actors may not be automatic.

The New York branch, which reps about 25% of SAG’s 120,000 members, has consistently supported more moderate positions than those of SAG’s Hollywood membership. Longtime New York-based board member rep Mike Hodge has already come out against the authorization vote, and board member Richard Masur has sharply criticized how guild leaders handled last month’s round of contract talks with the majors.

SAG needs 75% approval among those voting to go on strike, although Allen and Rosenberg have insisted that voting for the authorization won’t necessarily lead to a strike. Instead, the SAG toppers have insisted that they need to get the endorsement to force the companies back to the bargaining table.

“We are encouraging our members to vote yes to empower our national board and negotiators,” a SAG spokesman said Monday. “Our goal remains getting an agreement that addresses SAG actors’ needs.”

For its part, the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers has asserted that SAG’s likely to strike if the authorization vote is approved, since its leaders have been inflexible in bargaining. “Simply put, a vote to authorize a strike will lead inexorably to a strike, and a strike would cost SAG members far more than they can ever expect to gain,” the group said recently. 

The AMPTP took out an ad in today’s Daily Variety urging SAG members to read the details of its offer. It also questioned the timing of the vote, accusing SAG of trying to suppress turnout in order to improve the chances of a yes vote.

“We want you to study our entire offer at AMPTP.org because we believe that the more people understand our offer, the less likely there will be a strike,” the org said. “Vote with all the facts. And ask yourself whether it makes sense to schedule the vote over holidays, making it difficult for working actors to vote and ensuring a low voter turnout. We believe all SAG members are entitled to an open, vigorous public debate with everyone participating in the vote.”

Partners at a major tenpercentery have huddled recently about their worries about the strike vote and are taking steps to ensure that their clients receive the ballots. SAG responded Monday by saying it welcomes efforts to inform members about what’s at stake.

“Finally, we agree with the AMPTP on something,” a SAG spokesman said. “We too are in favor of reading and voting. Screen Actors Guild is deploying significant financial and labor resources toward an education campaign to ensure that SAG members are properly informed about the issues in this negotiation and to encourage them to vote.”

When the WGA took its strike authorization in October 2007, more than 90% of those voting supported it. Turnout was the highest in WGA history, with 5,507 votes — nearly half the membership.

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