Guild adding third meet for members

Ramping up its strike authorization campaign, the Screen Actors Guild has scheduled a third town hall meeting Dec. 17 at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel — aiming to assure members that they won’t be turned away.

And SAG president Alan Rosenberg has moved to reassure the biz that leaders view a strike as a last resort amid the nation’s financial crisis.

“We are sensitive to today’s uncertain economy, far more so than the CEOs who rake in multimillion dollar paydays,” Rosenberg said in a video message posted Tuesday on the guild’s website. “We intend to avoid a strike at all costs.”

SAG held its first town hall meeting Monday night at the Harmony Gold and will stage a second confab Monday in New York. The event at the Harmony Gold drew an enthusiastic capacity crowd of 450; the ballroom booked at the Hollywood Renaissance has a capacity of 600.

SAG leaders have insisted they need the strike authorization — which requires 75% of those voting to approve — in order to force the congloms to resume contract talks. The last round of talks cratered on Nov. 22 amid a blizzard of accusations after a federal mediator was unable to bring the two sides back to the table.

Most of those attending Monday’s event at the Harmony Gold offered unqualified support, including a standing ovation, for SAG’s leaders — particularly on new-media issues. “It’s important for us to take a firm stand against producers at a time when so much of our work is being seen over the Internet,” SAG member Oliver Theess said as he left the three-hour meeting.

But opposition to the authorization has been mounting quietly.”To go on strike, during an economic crisis and with AFTRA standing by to offer our employers the same talent under their accepted contract, is completely ridiculous,” a longtime national board member from New York said Tuesday. “And I have no doubt that if the membership votes for a strike, they will get one. Luckily, I believe that the members recognize that a strike over the remaining issues on the table is absurd and would have an enormously negative impact on their livelihoods, our health plan and our institution. If our negotiators were willing to bargain reasonably, we would have had a contract long ago.”

SAG leaders are holding meetings today in Los Angeles and New York with publicists and managers to explain the authorization vote.After the meeting, Rosenberg said he was particularly pleased by the response when he asked how many attendees were going to vote yes on strike authorization.

The 57-year-old Rosenberg also stressed that the authorization effort’s aimed at benefiting younger thesps. “This isn’t about me and what I earn now — it’s about actors who are coming up and their ability to make a living 20 years from now,” he said.

Still, support for a strike authorization wasn’t unanimous at Monday’s meeting. Several members expressed opposition during the Q&A period.

In an announcement last week, the moderate Unite for Strength faction did not make an endorsement on the strike authorization, saying only that members should be “careful” in considering the question.

SAG national exec director Doug Allen told Daily Variety after the meeting that the three “threshold” issues — new-media jurisdiction and residuals and retention of force majeure protections — remain the key roadblocks to a deal. However, SAG cited half a dozen other demands, such as higher DVD residuals, in fliers given out to members.

SAG hasn’t disclosed the date when it will mail out ballots. The AMPTP has taken issue with the voting taking place at a time when many SAG members may be out of town. “Even as President-Elect Barack Obama has warned that our economy will get worse before it gets better, SAG is scheduling a Holiday strike vote — at just the time of year when working actors will find it most difficult to participate,” the org said. “The Producers believe all SAG members are entitled to an open, vigorous public debate with everyone participating in the vote. We published our final offer at AMPTP.org, and we want every SAG member to review it closely and then make an independent judgment about whether it makes sense to strike — during a time of extreme economic crisis — over an offer that includes meaningful increases in wages and health and pension benefits, along with first-ever new media rights.”

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