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Battle for SAG underway

Sally Field endorses Unite for Strength party

As the Screen Actors Guild’s stalemate in contract talks with the majors continues, two opposing factions in SAG have lined up their candidates and staked out their positions on the eve of the guild’s national board meeting on Saturday. The two camps are vying to grab or retain as many seats as they can on SAG’s 71-member national board in the guild election set for mid-September.

The dominant incumbent group Membership First, led by SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg, formally unveiled its slate of 33 candidates on Friday. The list includes newcomers Keith Carradine, Scott Bakula, Alan Ruck and Joely Fisher and incumbents Joe Bologna, Lainie Kazan and JoBeth Williams.

Membership First’s control of SAG’s national board is facing a challenge from a newly formed group dubbed Unite for Strength, whose prominent members include Adam Arkin, Amy Brenneman, Doug Savant, Marcia Wallace and Kate Walsh. Unite for Strength’s platform calls for pursuing a merger with rival union AFTRA in an effort to strengthen actors’ overall bargaining position by ending the long-running hostilities between the two camps. That feud hit a new height this year in AFTRA’s decision to negotiate its primetime contract separately from SAG for the first time in more than 25 years, and in SAG’s decision to wage a vigorous campaign to encourage dual SAG-AFTRA members vote against the deal, which was ratified by AFTRA members on July 8.

In its position statement Friday, Membership First reiterated that its overarching goals were to “unite all actors under the Screen Actors Guild banner, protect actors’ wages and working conditions in all areas, fight for residuals in all

media platforms, protect the right of every dues paying member to vote on SAG issues and to secure complete jurisdiction in new media.”

Membership First currently holds a narrow majority on the board with about a third of the seats up for election, including 11 that rep Hollywood. Besides Bologna, Carradine, Fisher, Kazan and Williams, other notables on its slate include negotiating committee members Jane Austin and David Jolliffe and the last two winners of SAG’s Ralph Morgan service award, Yale Summers and Scott Wilson.

With the uncertainty surrounding the contract talks putting a pinch on employment, Hollywood’s likely to see other stars enter the fray in coming weeks. Ballots go out in late August, and results will be announced Sept. 19.

Unite for Strength slate organizers Ned Vaughn and Brenneman led an unsuccessful effort earlier this year to persuade the SAG board to institute “qualified voting” on contracts — meaning that actors would have to meet a work requirement to be allowed to vote on contract approvals and strike authorizations. As its goals statement made clear, Membership First is opposed to qualified voting.

SAG’s national board is set to meet Saturday, but it’s unlikely that the 71-member panel will act on the request by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers to send its final offer out for a vote by SAG’s 120,000 members. Rosenberg, who is not up for re-election this year, has insisted that the majors’ deal is insufficient for SAG members. New media residuals and jurisdictional issues referenced in Membership First’s statement have been sticking points in the guild’s negotiations with the majors.

It’s expected that Unite for Strength side would be more willing to push for acceptance of the deal on the table from the majors, though unsettled issues like clip consent and the majors’ push to eliminate force majeure provisions for actors are still of significant concern even to many SAG members who embraced the AFTRA deal.

Both Carradine and Fisher supported Rosenberg’s unsuccessful effort to persuade AFTRA members to vote down its recently approved primetime deal. Fisher’s the daughter of current SAG secretary-treasurer Connie Stevens, who was re-elected without opposition last year.

Other new candidates on the Membership First slate include Tom Bower, Vic Polizos, Charles Shaughnessy, Peter Van Norton, Charles Malik Whitfield and Christopher R. Wielh. Incumbent alternate national board members include Jeff Austin, Renee Aubrey, Steve Barr, Eugene Boggs, Ron Harper and Peggy Miley.

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