Guild taking steps to table strike vote

A badly split SAG national board has removed national exec director Doug Allen as the guild’s lead negotiator, according to a prominent board member.

Seymour Cassel said Allen had been ousted Monday, while SAG spokeswoman Pamela Greenwalt disputed that assertion and insisted no vote had taken place. Meanwhile, the board — which began an emergency meeting at 9 a.m. Monday — continued meeting into the early hours of Tuesday.

Cassel also told several other reporters that the board had removed Allen as the chief negotiator. The actor, who’s part of the Membership First faction that’s lost control of the national board, nearly beat SAG president Alan Rosenberg, when the latter ran for re-election in 2007.

SAG’s moderate wing, which gained control of the national board last fall, is likely to pass a resolution that includes removing Allen, replacing the negotiating committee and canceling the authorization vote by the end of the two-day session on Tuesday afternoon.

Allen’s ouster would be a clear signal that SAG’s leaders will cancel the guild’s divisive strike authorization vote shortly. The move also could jumpstart SAG’s long-stalled contract negotiations with the majors.

It’s unclear whether Allen will stay on for the final year of his contract or who will replace him as chief negotiator. SAG senior adviser John McGuire is a potential candidate.

SAG’s dismal relations with AFTRA during Allen’s tenure have been a galvanizing force in the move to oust him. When Rosenberg and his Membership First allies came to power in 2005, they immediately fired Greg Hessinger from the top slot at SAG due to concerns over Hessinger’s previous ties to AFTRA, where he had served five years as national exec director.

Leaders of SAG’s moderate wing have become increasingly frustrated over Allen continuing to insist on pushing for a strike authorization along with his failure to reach a deal with the congloms on SAG’s feature-primetime contract.

The internal battle has heated up since SAG’s attempt to re-start negotiations cratered on Nov. 22, when the guild’s negotiating committee insisted on an increase in DVD residuals — long a non-starter for the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. And the opposition to a strike authorization crystalized with high-profile members such as George Clooney and Tom Hanks opposing the idea of threatening a strike amid the worsening national economy.

Nearly 2,000 members have endorsed voting no on the authorization while 4,000 have come out in favor.

People close to the situation said that the board is also considering replacing SAG’s negotiating committee with a task force that more closely mirrors the makeup of the 71-member national board.

SAG’s negotiating committee, which has been in a stalemate with studios since spring over its primetime-feature master contract, remains dominated by Membership First. Monday’s meeting included a motion to change the guidelines for the composition of SAG task forces to remove requirements that such bodies reflect the proportion of earnings under a contract.

The once-delayed authorization vote would have to receive 75% support among members casting ballots for the guild to strike. Allen has insisted repeatedly that SAG needs the authorization in order to persuade the congloms to sweeten their six-month-old final offer — despite repeated assertions by the companies that they won’t alter the proposal.

Allen was hired in October 2006 after two decades in the No. 2 slot at the NFL Players Assn. and has a year left on his contract at a salary of about $500,000.

The moderate members — mostly those repping New York and the regional branches — have also been perturbed over the requirement that they attend in person rather than holding the meeting using videoconferencing equipment and have accused Allen and Rosenberg of trying to hold down attendance by those opposed to their policies.

About two dozen demonstrators rallied and leafleted outside SAG headquarters prior to the meeting, mostly on the side of supporting the authorization. The demonstrators included former SAG presidents Ed Asner and William Daniels.

Longtime SAG activist Tom Bower passed out leaflets of his message asserting that the congloms’ six-month-old proposal would lead to the elimination of residuals — an assertion strongly disputed by the AMPTP. “That’s been their plan all along, ever since they began negotiations with the writers in July 2007,” he added.

Neil Hassman, a manager with two dozen actor clients, attended the demonstration with a “No SAG Strike” sign. “SAG’s been unrealistic about trying to seek a better deal than the other unions and it’s having a devastating impact,” he said.

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