Gilbert, Sheen take sides in battle

SAG’s bitter internal battle over its contract ratification has intensified, with high-profile members such as Melissa Gilbert and Martin Sheen taking sides.

“I’m still amazed and shocked at the level of vitriol among the opponents of this deal,” admitted Gilbert, who served two terms as president during 2001-05. “I should not be surprised, but I am. There’s no room for dissent.”

Gilbert, who’s mostly stayed on the sidelines of SAG politics in recent years, noted that Thursday’s members-only meeting at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel saw former SAG president Ed Asner invoke the Holocaust to describe the impact of the tentative deal. That prompted a member to sharply criticize Asner for making the comparison.

“That was a real lowlight for me,” Gilbert said. “I have relatives who were Holocaust victims, so it’s most distasteful.”

Gilbert, who did not speak at the meeting, was also criticized by board member and former presidential candidate Seymour Cassel, who referred to her as “little Miss what’s-her-name” and accused her of being an oppressor.

“Seymour sounded like a crazy old man,” she said.

Gilbert, who positioned herself as a moderate pragmatist during her presidency, also said she has no plans to run for SAG office again. She signed to go on a tour with a musical version of “Little House on the Prairie.”

For his part, Sheen’s the centerpiece of a “vote no” video that opponents posted over the weekend; John Heard, Bill Mumy, Nichelle Nichols, board member Elliott Gould and secretary-treasurer Connie Stevens are also featured. Their key complaints center on rates in new-media provisions and no guaranteed jurisdiction for SAG on original new-media work budgeted at under $15,000 per minute, $300,000 per production and $500,000 per series.

“The contract itself is 42 pages long, with 32 pages alone devoted to new media,” Sheen said. “You can vote yes on this deal if it’s OK with you that Warner Bros., Paramount, NBC Universal, ABC Disney, Sony and MGM are all free to make Internet and made-for-new media TV shows non-union. Everyone knows that everything is shifting to new media at the expense of traditional media, so without jurisdiction, our losses in dollars will be huge,” he added.

“It’s a betrayal to us to our spirit, to our work and to our fellow actors, to all of our brothers and sisters,” Gould declared in the video.

“To me this is an insult and I won’t sign it,” Nichols said.

Opponents have also insisted that SAG’s in danger of losing out on new-media revenues just as it did on homevideo two decades ago.

“SAG has lost (by the Writers Guild’s calculation) about $4.5 billion since 1985 because they agreed to a discount in the first contract covering homevideo,” said board member William Mapother in a message sent over the weekend. “Whatever we get in this contract, we’re stuck with for a long, long time.”

Ballots were sent out last week to about 110,000 SAG members with a June 9 return date. SAG’s national board approved the deal on April 19 with 53% in favor — 10 months after SAG’s TV-film contract expired.

Thursday’s meeting, attended by about 600, also saw opponents boo interim national exec director David White and give a standing ovation to SAG president Alan Rosenberg.

Opponents to the deal have insisted that voting no is necessary to pressure the congloms to improve their final offer, even though the companies have said repeatedly they won’t sweeten the terms. Rosenberg said at the meeting that if the deal is voted down, SAG will have to ask members for a strike authorization — which would require 75% support from those voting.

SAG hit back over the weekend with a message to members, blasting the “no” side for holding out for a better deal.

“Some members are trying to take our union down and continue to circulate misinformation about our tentative agreement,” the guild said. “Don’t be fooled into voting down a good deal, with real gains for actors. The opponents would like you to believe they have a ‘plan’ if this agreement is voted down. They’ve never actually said what that plan is, and for the last year, their plan failed miserably. You lost jobs, wages and maybe even your health coverage.”

SAG also accused the opponents of losing $85 million in wage increases over the last year due to the strategy of holding out for better terms.

“Just ask yourself if it’s smart to say no to a deal with real, solid financial gains for SAG actors.” the missive said. “After a year working without a contract… is that really smart? A yes vote is the smart vote.”

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