Board to make final decision

The Screen Actors Guild’s contract negotiating committee wants the guild to take a strike authorization vote, but it wants national board of directors’ seal of approval on the dicey matter first.

On Wednesday, after a lengthy meeting, SAG’s negotiating committee passed a resolution urging the national board to vote on whether to seek a strike authorization from SAG members. The negotiating committee has the authority to initiate a membership vote without the national board’s approval, but the committee opted to send the final decision back to the board.

It was not immediately clear if the resolution was passed by a unanimous vote among the 13 negotiating committee members. The resolution came two days after the majors rejected SAG’s latest attempt to restart their stalled contract negotiations (Daily Variety, Sept. 30).

“A strike authorization vote of the membership is necessary to overcome the employers’ intransigence,” the resolution stated. But it also acknowledged the need for “the strong and public support of the national board” as a “prerequisite for its success.”

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, not surprisingly, blasted the resolution as a reckless move at a time when the national economy is reeling.

“Is this really the time for anyone associated with the entertainment business to be talking about going on strike? Not only is the business suffering from recent economic conditions, but if ever there was a time when Americans wanted the diversions of movies and television, it is now,” the AMPTP said in a statement.

The resolution also urged the board to get behind an “education” campaign to convince the guild’s 120,000 members of the need to approve the strike authorization. SAG has to achieve 75% approval among members taking part in the vote before it can go on strike. That high margin has been the main reason why SAG has yet to seek a strike authorization, even three months after the expiration of its most recent contract.

The negotiating committee’s move was viewed by many in the biz as a “punt” of the strike authorization question to the national board in order to avoid the sting of rejection if the vote did not pass.

But guild insiders countered that the committee’s move was a responsible decision in light of the shakeup in the national board’s composition following last month’s election. The board election was seen as a rebuke by the membership of SAG leaders’ aggressive posture in the contract negotiations with the majors. The dominant Membership First faction lost seats on the national board to the startup Unite for Strength faction that has been critical of aspects of the leadership’s handling of the contract negotiations.

SAG’s national board is set to meet for the first time with the newly elected members on Oct. 18. It is possible that the board would seek to convene a meeting before then in light of Wednesday’s resolution, but that was seen as unlikely.

SAG reps declined comment beyond the resolution. It’s understood that SAG leaders want to be able to wield the threat of going on strike to prod the majors back to the bargining table. The sides have not met since mid-July.

The AMPTP’s statement reiterated the majors’ position that SAG was rejecting as insufficient contract terms that, in the main, were accepted by the Writers Guild, Directors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists at a time when near-term economic forecasts were not nearly as grim as they have become in the past few weeks.

“This is the harsh economic reality,” the AMPTP statement said, “and no strike will change that reality.”

Biz labor watchers noted that SAG’s toughest talk to date about a possible strike came one year to the day after the governing bodies of the WGA West and East voted to seek a strike authorization from their members — and that strike caused enough economic pain through the showbiz economy to make many SAG members wary of calls for another work stoppage.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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