Members to discuss feature-primetime contract

With a contentious ratification vote looming, the Screen Actors Guild has set a pair of town hall meetings over its feature-primetime contract.

SAG announced Friday it will hold a May 21 members-only meeting at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel and a June 1 gathering at the DGA Theater in New York City.

The guild has also updated its web site with highlights and a summary of the tentative agreement, which was reached on April 17 — nearly 11 months after its feature-primetime master agreement expired. That pact was hammered out in back-channel negotiations by SAG toppers David White and John McGuire after talks with the majors collapsed in mid-February over the the issue of whether the expiration date would be in 2011 or 2012.

SAG also removed this week material from its web site that had been posted in 2008 to persuade members to  vote for a strike authorization. That vote was never taken.  

SAG had originally planned to send out the ratification ballots in early May, but the guild needed more time to prepare the pro and con statements going out with the ballot to its 120,000 members. Ballots will go out May 19 with a June 9 return date.

The coming weeks are expected to see a resumption of the explosive internal battles over the pact, between the hardline Membership First faction and a moderate coalition that gained a narrow majority on the national board in the fall. 

Highlights of that battle have included high-profile members — including Tom Hanks and George Clooney – mounting a campaign late last year to stop a strike authorization vote; a 28-hour filibuster at a national board meeting in January to block efforts by the moderates to fire national exec director Doug Allen for allegedly botching the negotiations; an extraordinary “written assent” by moderates to boot Allen out; and an unsuccessful lawsuit by SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg to block Allen’s ouster.

The two sides are jockeying for political leverage in the next round of SAG elections in September, with Membership First remaining bitterly opposed to the deal.

SAG’s national board approved the two-year deal April 19 with a 53% endorsement. Backers touted the pact for keeping SAG in synch with the DGA, WGA and AFTRA expirations in 2011, and bringing about much-needed stability plus pay raises to thesps, along with blasting Membership First for being unrealistic in its aggressive approach to negotiations.

For its part, Membership First has staged more than a dozen demonstrations against the deal, contending that the explosive growth of new-media precludes accepting the same template as the WGA, DGA and AFTRA. They’ve contended that voting the deal down would force the congloms to offer SAG better terms — though the congloms have insisted for the past year that they will not sweeten the deal.

Membership First will hold a rally at Griffith Park on May 17.

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