Pro-merger Hanks supports Howard

With election campaigning at the Screen Actors Guild in full swing, the self-styled moderates have lined up endorsements from Tom Hanks, Sally Field, William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman, Hector Elizondo and Tony Shalhoub.

Hanks came on board Monday in support of the Unite for Strength faction, which is running Ken Howard for president as the moderates seek to expand their narrow majority on SAG’s national board. Hanks said in a two-minute message that he’s supporting the group due to its advocacy for a merger between SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists.

“It is imperative that performers unite,” Hanks said in the video. “Having two unions for actors has put us in a position of competing against ourselves. I’m confident that a merged performers union will be much stronger.”

Hanks and Field were among the high-profile thesps supporting the SAG primetime-feature deal earlier this year and AFTRA’s TV deal last summer. Both pacts were ratified despite relentless attack by hardline opponents, led by SAG president Alan Rosenberg, with the biggest complaints coming on perceived shortfalls in new-media pay and jurisdiction.

AFTRA’s decision last year to split from SAG and negotiate alone — following an array of jurisdictional disputes — has led to AFTRA signing the lion’s share of new primetime shows. SAG’s set to hold seven weeks of contract negotiations with the majors in October 2010, nine months prior to expiration; it hasn’t yet sorted out whether it will return to joint negotiations with AFTRA.

Macy said he’s supporting Unite for Strength in order to increase cooperation between the Hollywood unions.

“It’s obvious to me that all actors must work as a united front in contract negotiations,” he said. “I belong to both AFTRA and SAG and I’ve been well served by both unions in the past. But we face a new, more challenging world out there and it’s clear to me that the strategy most likely to succeed is to merge the two unions and work closely with the Writers and Directors guilds.”

The self-styled progressives of Membership First have tapped First VP Anne-Marie Johnson to head their slate, which features Ed Asner, Elliott Gould, Ed Harris, Diane Ladd, current president Alan Rosenberg and Martin Sheen as board candidates. The slate has strongly endorsed the stance of maintaining an assertive posture toward the congloms.

Seymour Cassel, who nearly beat Rosenberg two years ago, is running as an independent for the presidency and promising a similarly confrontational stance toward the companies.

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