Vote would probably come close to Xmas

SAG’s strike authorization won’t go out to members until near the end of the month — meaning the Jan. 11 Golden Globes probably won’t be disrupted for the second year in a row.

The Screen Actors Guild hasn’t officially announced when it’s mailing out the ballots but people close to the situation have indicated that date will be around Christmas. With at least three weeks needed for the ballots to be returned, SAG couldn’t go on strike until mid-January at the earliest.

SAG would need 75% approval of the authorization by those voting plus an OK by the national board to go on strike. Guild leaders are likely to announce the ballot dates at Monday night’s town hall meeting for members at the Harmony Gold Theater.

With the Globes out of SAG’s target sights, the guild could still disrupt the Feb. 22 Oscars along with putting studio’s feature production on hold and forcing primetime TV to close down, albeit fairly late in the season.

With the stakes heightened by the economic crisis, deep divisions have already emerged within SAG. Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, former SAG VP Mike Farrell and national board member Mike Hodge have come out against the guild’s strike authorization vote.

Farrell announced his opposition in a bitter email Wednesday, ridiculing SAG’s Membership First faction for its conduct over the past five years. He said the leaders’ tactics have included “misinformation, tough talk, over-promising and ineptitude — that have run our union into the ground.”

SAG president Alan Rosenberg told Daily Variety that Farrell’s criticism was unwarranted. “Mike Farrell has not been in the board room for the past three years and he’s not part of the negotiating committee so his comments are borne out of ignorance,” he said. “Now’s the time to stand united behind the union.”

The strike authorization vote was triggered Nov. 22 when talks between SAG and the majors cratered with wide gaps remaining between the sides. SAG’s negotiating committee is insisting the guild must receive better terms in new-media jurisdiction and residuals than in deals the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers signed this year with the DGA, WGA, AFTRA, casting directors and IATSE.

Rosenberg said he was optimistic that the authorization would pass and lead to “good faith” negotiations with the companies. And he warned that a no vote will be damaging to SAG’s leverage in any subsequent negotiations.

“We want the exact same things that the other guilds got — the ability to have our issues addressed at the bargaining table,” he added. “We haven’t been allowed to do that.

Farrell’s missive, titled “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight Strikes Again,” took Membership First to task over its failed attempts to achieve its agenda — described by Farrell as bringing agents into a franchise agreement, getting a raise in DVD residuals and “their long-sought dream of destroying AFTRA.”

“Blustering and posturing instead of negotiating have clearly painted us into a corner,” Farrell said. “With the country in the most catastrophic economic condition since 1929 and our entire industry reeling, they want you to vote for a strike. A strike? Now? Don’t we look foolish enough already? Do they think it’s a way to somehow save face?”

Farrell noted that SAG leaders were unsuccessful in persuading AFTRA members to vote down that union’s primetime deal and remain insistent on seeking a hike in DVD residuals — long a nonstarter for the AMPTP. He said SAG member dues are now being used for an “education campaign” to persuade members to endorse the strike authorization.

“I, for one, am not anti-union,” Farrell wrote. “God knows, as a member for over 40 years, I’m not anti-SAG. But I am anti-idiocy. I’m voting no.”

Hodge, a longtime New York rep to the national board, became the first of the 71-member panel to come out publicly against the authorization. He said in an email that new media represent less than 2% of earnings for SAG actors, while the refusal to accept the majors’ final offer — made June 30 as SAG’s master contract expired — is costing members $1.7 million a week plus the 14% hike in pension and health contributions.

“Oh, and the two studies that the DGA did said that there won’t be money in new media until 2012 or even 2014,” Hodge added. “Our contracts last for three years.”

Additonally, the Unite for Strength faction — which won five national board seats in September after a campaign blasting SAG leaders’ handling of negotiations — has held back on taking a position on the authorization vote. In a message sent Tuesday, Unite for Strength leaders Amy Aquino and Arye Gross said guild toppers have not worked hard enough to avert a strike.

“In these historically difficult economic times, every reasonable possibility for making a deal must be explored before considering a job action, and based on the media reports we’ve seen, we’re concerned this wasn’t accomplished,” the duo said. “The decision to authorize a strike is one of the most important choices any member can make. It should be made after carefully weighing all the issues and the potential consequences.”

Board member Richard Masur, who served two terms as SAG president in the late 1990s, also said that it’s premature to send out a strike authorization because more work needs to be done to reach a deal.

“Based solely on what has been made public, it appears that the committee did not make a sufficient effort to find a deal,” Masur added. “If it is true that the committee included an increase in DVD residuals in their proposal, then Doug Allen and the majority of the committee insured that the producers would walk away. They have known, since April, that no deal could be made which includes DVD increases.”

If the authorization vote succeeds, final say over calling a strike would rest with the national board, where control shifted away in September from the more assertive Membership First faction to a coalition of moderates including reps from New York, the regional branches and the Hollywood-based Unite for Strength. However, Membership First reps continue to control SAG’s negotiating committee.

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