A-listers cite weakening economy as incentive

Looks like the “no” side is mobilizing the star power.

As SAG called off its emergency Friday board meeting, more than 130 stars — including George Clooney, Matt Damon and Tom Hanks — have strongly urged SAG members to vote down the guild’s strike authorization.

The list also includes Alan Alda, Jason Alexander, Alec Baldwin, Steve Carell, Billy Crystal, Cameron Diaz, Sally Field, Morgan Freeman, Jeremy Irons, Helen Hunt, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Kevin Spacey and Charlize Theron, along with former SAG presidents Patty Duke, Melissa Gilbert and William Schallert.

In a letter sent Monday to leaders of the Screen Actors Guild, the stars said a strike would create more economic hardship and called for SAG to unite with other Hollywood unions in three years. Doing so would be a way to “take the high road,” they added.

The letter was issued shortly before guild president Alan Rosenberg spoke before an overflow crowd of several hundred at a townhall meeting Monday night at the Westin Times Square. Prior to the meet, New York board member Paul Christie described New York members as “ticked off” about the strike authorization.

“They already realize how hard they’ve been hit financially, and the idea that we’d be asking them to go out on strike, and the idea that they’d be asking the IATSE guys, the craft services people, AFTRA guys and everybody else to go on strike at this point, we think, is just insane,” Christie told Daily Variety. “I haven’t run into one person here who’s in favor.”

Rosenberg remained resolute, saying before the meeting, “In a terrible economy like this, it’s our responsibility to make sure our members aren’t thrown under the bus; that we’re not sacrificing disproportionately while the corporations set themselves up with billions of dollars in new media.”

But Baldwin blistered SAG’s negotiating committee, which met 46 times with the congloms between April and November — when federal mediation cratered. “Nothing against them personally but they have failed as negotiators and they should step down,” he said after speaking during the meeting.

New York board member Sue-Anne Morrow said that message was delivered clearly to Rosenberg and national exec director Doug Allen. “I think they’re hearing an enormous lack of support for how they’re handling the negotiations,” she added.

Rosenberg admitted afterward, “It was a tough room.”

But he noted that a Dec. 8 townhall meeting in Hollywood had generated the opposite reaction from members.

SAG’s scheduled to hold another townhall meeting Wednesday at the Hollywood Renaissance and send out a strike authorization vote Jan. 2 to its approximately 110,000 dues-current members, with ballots due back Jan. 23. For a strike to occur, at least 75% of those voting would have to affirm the authorization, with the national board having final say over a work stoppage.

Rosenberg also warned Monday that a “no” vote would “cripple” SAG in negotiating a deal with the congloms and in upcoming commercials talks. “If these employers know we can’t get a strike authorization, they’ll just roll over us,” he added.

SAG’s leaders have insisted that voting for authorization won’t necessarily lead to a strike but merely would push the congloms to improve their five-month-old final offer. But Monday’s letter from the stars asserted that a “yes” vote would lead to a strike.

“We feel very strongly that SAG members should not vote to authorize a strike at this time,” the letter said. “We don’t think that an authorization can be looked at as merely a bargaining tool. It must be looked at as what it is — an agreement to strike if negotiations fail.”

The letter comes three days after SAG announced 31 high-profile supporters for the authorization, including Mel Gibson, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Holly Hunter and Martin Sheen along with national board members Justine Bateman, Elliott Gould, Diane Ladd and Kent McCord.

The stars lined up similarly last summer during SAG’s failed attempt to persuade AFTRA members to vote down AFTRA’s primetime deal. Field, Hanks and Spacey had urged a “yes” vote while Harris and Sheen came out on the “no” side.

Monday’s anti-authorization letter said the stars don’t believe in good conscience that it’s the time to be putting people out of work. And they urged SAG to look to 2011.

“None of our friends in the other unions are truly happy with the deals they made in their negotiations,” the missive said. “Three years from now all the union contracts will be up again at roughly the same time. At that point if we plan and work together with our sister unions we will have incredible leverage.”

Monday’s letter was sent a few hours after Rosenberg called off Friday’s emergency national board meeting in the face of objections over requiring reps to attend the Los Angeles confab in person. Over the weekend, Rosenberg had scheduled the emergency meeting and blasted demands by SAG’s New York reps that the upcoming strike authorization vote be called off and that the negotiating committee be replaced.

One board member indicated Monday that requiring attendance in person violates the guild’s constitution. Others said requiring cross-country travel on short notice, when video-conferencing equipment is readily available, could only be interpreted as a punitive move designed to hold down attendance by those opposing the guild’s Hollywood leadership.

For his part, Rosenberg blasted away at the New York reps.

“Rather than argue over the propriety of an in-person meeting I have decided to withdraw the meeting notice for now,” he said. “However, you will be promptly notified should the meeting be rescheduled for a later date. I am disappointed that during these critical times not all of our board members are willing to take the time needed to make real progress on the issues dividing our elected leaders.”

Rosenberg also complained that last week’s meeting of the national executive committee had been cut short because New York members left. “Given this conduct, and the sensitivity and complexity of the issues at hand, I do not believe a video-conference board meeting will be effective or productive,” he added.

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