Unite for Strength frustrated with negotiations

In a direct challenge to Alan Rosenberg for control of the Screen Actors Guild, a dissident faction dubbed Unite for Strength has announced they will challenge the current Hollywood Division leadership with a slate of 31 actors running for seats on the national board.

The formation of Unite for Strength reflects the mounting frustration among some thesps over the contract negotiations stalemate between SAG and the majors, as well as a desire among prominent thesps to achieve a merger of SAG and its smaller rival, AFTRA.

Notable names on the Unite for Strength slate include Adam Arkin, Amy Brenneman, Doug Savant, Marcia Wallace and Kate Walsh. The group said it would attempt to wrest control of the SAG national board from the Hollywood-based Membership First group, which has a narrow majority. SAG’s Hollywood division accounts for about 60% of the board’s 71 seats, and nearly every one of the Hollywood seats is held by thesps aligned with Membership First.

Unite for Strength blamed MembershipFirst for the current contract stalemate with the majors and cited a guild merger with AFTRA as its key goal. Hostilities between SAG and AFTRA have reached the point that the two unions negotiated separately, followed by an unsuccessful campaign by SAG to persuade AFTRA members to vote down AFTRA’s primetime deal with the AMPTP.

“With the immense challenges actors face today, we need all the strength we can muster.  And that means electing union leadership that is committed to uniting actors to fight for our common future,” said Ned Vaughn, a leader of Unite for Strength. “We can no longer afford leaders who sow division.”   

Earlier this year, Vaughn led an unsuccessful effort with Brenneman 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. The effort attracted 1,500 signatures, including those of Sally Field and Charlie Sheen (Daily Variety, Feb. 27).

SAG prexy Rosenberg is opposed to qualified voting, saying it’s undemocratic and disenfranchises the least powerful members of SAG. He isn’t up for re-election until next year.

 Vaughn, who’s also running, said a merger of SAG and AFTRA would lead to more overall employment.

“If we’re elected, we’ll end the senseless war against AFTRA and work to create a united front of actors to fight for more working opportunities and better jobs,” he said. “We believe that will ultimately require merging the two unions, and that’s a goal we’re all pledged to pursue.”

SAG’s currently in a stalemate with the majors over a new feature-primetime deal, which expired three weeks ago. The guild contends terms of the AMPTP proposal — which mirrors the AFTRA pact in most respects — fall short of what’s acceptable to SAG members.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, meanwhile, has given SAG a final offer and told the guild that it is done with negotiations.

“As our current predicament makes clear, actors lose out when we face off as separate, warring camps against the media conglomerates in contract negotiations,” Arkin said.  “I’m concerned for future negotiations if we don’t change the leadership that has brought us to this point.”

Wednesday’s announcement came a day before the deadline for submitting nominations for SAG’s board. About one-third of the board’s seats are up for re-election. Ballots will be sent out in late August and are due back Sept. 19.

MembershipFirst has been in control of SAG’s national board since guild prexy Rosenberg was elected three years ago.

Among its prominent members are Seymour Cassel, Frances Fisher, Elliott Gould, Valerie Harper,  Lainie Kazan, Kent McCord, Esai Morales and Nancy Sinatra; Keith Carradine is joining the slate and is running for a board seat in the election.

In a sign that the election will be combative, MembershipFirst co-founder Loren Lester issued a statement that blasted Unite for Strength.

“MembershipFirst is the only thing standing between SAG and a complete takeover of the Guild by AFTRA. The actors calling themselves “Unite for Strength” will be helping hand SAG over to AFTRA on a silver platter and should be prepared for a future without residuals,” said Lester.

The Unite for Strength slate also includes Michelle Allsopp, Edoardo Ballerini, Bob Bergen, L. Scott Caldwell, Gabrielle Carteris, William Charlton, Assaf Cohen, Ashley Crow, Tim DeKay, Fred Fein, Googy Gress, Dule Hill, Ken Howard, Clyde Kusatsu, Matt Letscher, John Carroll Lynch, Anthony Molinari, Pamela Reed, Bill Smitrovich, Richard Speight Jr., Mandy Steckelberg, Keith Szarabajka, Steve Tom, Stacey Travis and Tom Verica.

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