Membership First faction controls SAG board

Underlining the intensity of the SAG-AFTRA feud, activist members of the guild have launched a blistering campaign against ratifying AFTRA’s primetime deal.

That effort includes a push to attend a Monday morning rally in front of SAG headquarters in Hollywood.

Officially, SAG is billing the two-hour event as a way for members to show support for its negotiating team. The guild still hasn’t advised the 44,000 SAG members who also hold AFTRA cards whether to support the deal — though that decision could come today at a meeting of SAG’s national exec committee.

But the unofficial messages sent out Thursday make it clear that reps of the Membership First faction, which controls the SAG board, plan to use the rally to bash AFTRA for what Membership Firsters see as caving in to the congloms on its deal last week. AFTRA’s national board is expected to approve the deal this weekend, triggering a three-week ratification vote.

“All dual-cardholders must vote down this contract, not only to give SAG the opportunity to negotiate a better deal, but to force AFTRA leadership back to the table with a mandate from their membership on the issues that are absolutely vital to actors,” said one message sent by SAG member Michael Heister. “Being physically present at this rally makes it known to AFTRA leadership and the moguls that actors absolutely will stand up for their rights, that we will not let our images be maligned for pennies, and we will not let the relevance of our unions be eviscerated under the cover of new media.”

Asking AFTRA members to vote down the contract, however, appears to be something of a longshot since 93% of them recently backed approval of the union’s network code contract, which covers nonprimetime TV work.

In another message sent Thursday to members, SAG board member Susan Savage listed these objections to the AFTRA deal: lack of sufficient protection for online use of clips, no increases in DVD, no protection from product integration and an unacceptable rate for new-media streaming of shows. “If you don’t want to ever make a living as an actor, by all means, feel free to vote this up,” she added.

Savage also asserted that George Clooney and Tom Hanks — who had urged in February that SAG start negotiations ASAP — had come aboard the anti-ratification drive. That prompted a denial by Clooney, who said, “I have had no conversations with SAG concerning that issue. Any reporting to the contrary is false.”

Hanks also issued a denial, saying, “Someone name Susan Savage has used my name in a letter, suggesting I have taken the position of not ratifying the new AFTRA agreement. This is a hoax, not true, a complete fabrication.”

AFTRA reached its primetime deal on May 28 after three weeks of negotiations. It was the first time in three decades that AFTRA and SAG had not negotiated together; AFTRA split off following a series of jurisdictional battles.

SAG leaders have already indicated they don’t want to sign a carbon copy of the AFTRA deal, but the congloms have insisted SAG’s not going to be able to achieve a significant advance on the AFTRA terms and conditions — which largely mirror the language of the DGA and WGA deals in the new-media sector. SAG may be able to improve in a single area, such as language barring “forced endorsement” in scenes with product integration, but it’s unlikely to be able to budge the companies much further.

SAG was in its 24th day of talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers on Thursday; people familiar with the negotiations indicated little progress was made. Talks were recessed until Monday.

SAG’s contract expires June 30. Guild leaders have still not decided whether to ask for a strike authorization vote.

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