Legal action threatened

In a move that will unnerve Hollywood, the longtime feud between the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists has gone nuclear.

SAG’s launched an extraordinary campaign to persuade its 44,000 members who also hold AFTRA cards to defeat ratification of AFTRA’s primetime deal. SAG’s stunning move, voted up Friday by its bitterly divided national exec committee on a 13-10 margin, prompted AFTRA to threaten to take SAG to court for interfering in its internal affairs.

And in an odd confluence of events, SAG’s resuming its feature-primetime negotiations with the majors this morning while holding a “solidarity” rally at the same time at guild headquarters in Hollywood — with the latter event undoubtedly used to bash AFTRA.

“This is really unfortunate and I’m frankly horrified to see my SAG dues money spent this way,” said AFTRA president Roberta Reardon on Sunday. “I think SAG should be concentrating on making a deal. And it’s disingenuous of SAG to call it a ‘solidarity’ rally when it’s clear that it will be an anti-AFTRA rally.”

Still, SAG leaders haven’t taken the step of calling for a strike authorization, even though its contract expires in three weeks. Instead, SAG insists that it’s all about getting a better deal for actors and notes it’s still far apart from the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

SAG president Alan Rosenberg notified members Sunday that there remain half a dozen major gaps — including DVDs, product integration, mileage pay and new-media pay. “These are examples of priorities for actors that were not achieved in the AFTRA deal,” he added.

Rosenberg also asserted that AFTRA’s partly to blame for the lack of progress because it won’t agree to delay the ratification vote.

“We believe that the tentative AFTRA deal and its pending ratification — coming as it does within several days of SAG’s June 30 contract deadline — is a distraction that the employers are using to delay significant progress in our negotiations. Delaying ratification of the AFTRA contract could benefit all actors. AFTRA members too would benefit by increased leverage in our negotiations and through any favored-nations clauses SAG might be able to achieve that would provide improvements in the AFTRA deal.”

Reardon and AFTRA topper Kim Roberts Hedgpeth spurned those argument in a letter Friday and cautioned SAG that it may wind up in court if it keeps going down the anti-AFTRA road. Reardon repeated the warning Sunday.

“Our lawyers are looking into this,” she told Daily Variety. “We’ve never heard of such a thing so it’s an unknown area for us.”

SAG hasn’t responded to questions about an AFTRA lawsuit but its defense would likely center on claims of free speech.

Hedgpeth and Reardon blasted the SAG effort in a sharply worded reply to Guild counterparts Doug Allen and Rosenberg.

“We are reserving judgment about the accuracy of statements SAG elected leaders and staff intend to undermine the merits of our members’ tentative agreement and disrupt our ratification process,” the duo wrote. “Such unprecedented interference in the internal affairs of another union is the antithesis of good unionism.”

In addition to the “solidarity” rally today, SAG’s also scheduled a townhall meeting Wednesday at the Harmony Gold Theater. The Writers Guild of America, which received extensive support from SAG during its 100-day strike, issued a call to its members to attend the rally.

“We all remember how SAG members turned out in numbers to picket, march and rally with us during our contract campaign and strike,” the WGA said. “Now it’s our turn to be there for them.”

SAG and AFTRA are negotiating separately for the first time in three decades due to bitter jurisdictional disputes triggered when AFTRA leaders asserted they could no longer trust SAG leaders. The majors have indicated they’re unwilling to give SAG a significantly better deal than AFTRA received.

AFTRA’s national board approved the primetime deal “overwhelmingly” and sent it to members for ratification with results to be announced July 7. The deal covers 10 series and featured gains in salaries and jurisdiction on low-budget made-for-the-Internet shows plus language allowing actors to opt out of online clip usage at the time of employment.

“In our view, delaying the process would not be in the best interest of our members,” Hedgpeth and Reardon said in response to SAG’s request for a delay. “Nor do we believe there is anything about AFTRA’s ratification process that would ‘distract’ either SAG or the industry from good-faith negotiations or in any way be ‘interfering’ with the guild’s negotiations with the AMPTP. In any event, given our timeline, by the time the results of our ratification process are announced, SAG will have been back at the table with the employers for more than five weeks.”

It’s likely to be an uphill battle for SAG to persuade its dual cardholders to vote down the AFTRA deal since AFTRA’s most recent ratification vote on its nonprimetime network code pact garnered 93% support among AFTRA members who voted.

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