Guild leaders won't budge on vote

Amid growing internal opposition, Screen Actors Guild leaders aren’t budging from their drive for a strike authorization vote.

Even though they’ve postponed the vote until mid-January, SAG’s toppers remain strident about the need for thesps to vote up the authorization — or face the ruination of their careers and the guild.

In a pre-taped interview that aired on KNBC on Sunday, first VP Anne-Marie Johnson accused the congloms of aiming to destroy SAG via the same sort of concessions faced by the United Auto Workers.

“It’s the first step in busting the union,” she said of attempts to persuade members to vote no. “This vote is really about unionism in this country.”

SAG national exec director Doug Allen insisted in the same interview, taped before the delay of the strike authorization vote, that members support holding out for a better deal than what the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers proposed June 30 as SAG’s contract expired. He cited the 87% rate of support in a September postcard poll — blasted as bogus by the AMPTP — and highlighted new-media jurisdiction and residuals as the key issues.

“We’ve always had a very healthy and robust democracy. The divisions in the ranks go back for decades,” Allen said in regard to the guild’s internal tensions.

But SAG’s postponement of its strike authorization vote may signal that its national board is tilting in a more moderate direction — so much so that the divisive vote may be called off. It’s still unclear what direction the national board will take at its emergency meeting on Jan. 12-13, scheduled by Allen and president Alan Rosenberg to persuade the fractured 71-member panel to present a united front and persuade members to approve a strike authorization.

The timing of the Dec. 22 announcement was telling. It came a few hours after Allen and Rosenberg met with leaders of the Unite for Strength faction, a group of Hollywood moderates who gained five board seats in the fall after campaigning on a platform that asserted that Rosenberg and his allies had bungled the contract negotiations.

Unite for Strength spokesman Ned Vaughn told Daily Variety that he and his colleagues expressed concerns about going ahead with the vote given the growing numbers of SAG members — particularly high-profile stars such as George Clooney and Tom Hanks — opting for the no side. Michael Douglas, Sarah Silverman and Bruce Willis joined those ranks during the long Christmas break.

Supporters of the authorization effort have attracted more than 2,500 signers to a SAG-sponsored online petition, including Laura Dern, Mel Gibson, Hal Holbrook, Holly Hunter, Diane Ladd, Sandra Oh and Rob Schneider.

“We felt that in light of what’s been happening that it would have been reckless for the national board to proceed without having the chance to reconsider,” Vaughn said. “We appreciate that they’ve taken our concerns seriously.”

Unite for Strength’s electoral gains shifted control of the national board from the more assertive Membership First faction to give the moderates — made up largely of New York and regional reps — a narrow ruling margin.

Vaughn and New York rep Sue-Anne Morrow have expressed concern that scheduling the confab as a “face-to-face” meeting in Los Angeles will make it difficult for New York and regional branch members to attend.

“Once again Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Allen are making a show of trying to achieve ‘consensus’ and ‘solidarity,’ while they are actually suppressing dissent by insisting that the emergency board meeting be held face to face in Los Angeles,” Morrow said. “They know full well that this could limit the participation of the N.Y. and regional branch divisions and give Membership First a majority in the boardroom. If they really wanted to have an honest, productive meeting, they would hold this meeting via videoconference to allow for the broadest participation possible.”

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