The deep divides within the Screen Actors Guild came into sharp focus Thursday evening as 600 thesps attended a raucous town hall meeting over the contentious ratification vote on the feature-primetime deal.
The members-only meeting at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel featured opponents of the deal giving a standing ovation for president Alan Rosenberg and booing interim national exec director David White. At one point, former SAG president Ed Asner invoked the Holocaust to describe the impact of the tentative deal, prompting a member to sharply criticize him for making the comparison.
“There were plenty of strong expressions of feelings about this from both sides,” said Ned Vaughn, a leader of the Unite For Strength faction that backs the deal. “The room was pretty divided.”
Ballots were sent out Tuesday to about 110,000 SAG members with a June 9 return date. Hardliners, who are concentrated in Hollywood, are opposing the deal — largely over the rates in its new-media provisions and SAG not receiving guaranteed jurisdiction for new-media work. The three-hour event started with a presentation by White but most of the evening was taken up by questions and answers.
Scott Wilson, who’s been among the most active opponents of the deal, was critical in his speech of the moderates have insisted the two-year deal will help get members back to work by removing uncertainty. He accused the current board majority – a coalition from New York, the regional branches and Unite For Strenght in Hollywood — of defying the will of members in Hollywood, noting that those members perform the majority of the work.
“What would the founders of this union think of members agreeing to work non-union?” he told the crowd. “If this goes through, thousands of members will lose their health coverage and that pisses me off.”
Vaughn said deal supporters asked Rosenberg repeatedly to explain how voting the deal will lead to a better agreement when the congloms have said repeatedly they won’t sweeten the terms. Rosenberg replied by saying that if that occurs, SAG will have to ask members for a strike authorization – which would require 75% support from those voting.
“I think a lot of members don’t believe that voting no is going to get us a better deal,” Vaughn said.
Former SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert, who supports the deal, attended the meeting along with husband Bruce Boxleitner but did not speak. Others in attendance included Patricia Heaton, board members Clancy Brown, Gabrielle Carteris, Frances Fisher and France Nuyen.
James McCauley, a member opposing the deal, said that most of the members attending were in agreement with the “No for Your Future” flyer he was distributing. “I’m finding that people have a pretty good understanding of these issues and a lot of them have already voted,” he added.
SAG’s national board approved trhe deal on April 19 with 53% in favor. SAG’s TV-film contract expired last June 30.