Hillberg to run for SAG prexy

Thesp provides competition for Ken Howard

Ken Howard will not be running unopposed for a second term as president of the Screen Actors Guild with independent David Hillberg making a run for the top slot.

“I admit that I’m a dark horse but I feel obligated to provide an opposing voice,” Hillberg told Variety on Sunday prior to the annual Hollywood Division Membership meeting at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City.

Hillberg received 902 votes as a candidate for a national board seat in last fall’s election, the fewest of the 76 candidates in a contest that saw Howard’s ruling Unite for Strength faction dominate over the Membership First faction — which recently opted not to run a candidate to oppose Howard’s re-election bid (Daily Variety, July 15).

Other independent candidates could emerge by the Thursday deadline for submitting petitions.

Hillberg is a 10-year SAG member who joined the union by doing a Subway spot, following a career in law enforcement. His credits include “The Aviator” and the low-budget “Hangar Rats,” which he directed and produced.

Hillberg is generally in accord with the positions of the self-styled progressives of Membership First and criticized SAG’s current leadership for failing to negotiate more aggressively last fall on the successor contract for features and primetime — particularly on new media provisions. “The leadership isn’t looking at the bigger picture on new media,” he added.

Hillberg also said SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists need to clarify jurisdiction over primetime series before moving ahead on merger. The longstanding agreement has been that SAG reps all projects shot on film, while SAG and AFTRA have an equal shot at projects shot electronically. However, with more primetime skeins shot in high-definition digital formats, AFTRA’s electronic purview has greatly expanded over the past three years.

Unite for Strength’s signature issue has been merger — touted as the best way to resolve jurisdictional overlaps and give actors more power. SAG and AFTRA leaders have started hammering out details and a member vote could take place by this time next year by the 120,000 members of SAG and the 70,000 members of AFTRA — with 45,000 members belonging to both.

Approval requires a 60% super-majority from those voting in both unions. SAG members rebuffed similar efforts in 1998 and 2003 amid concerns that a merger would cause SAG to lose its unique character as an actors union and that a combo could negatively impact the health and pension plans.

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