HOLLYWOOD — In her first public action as SAG prexy, Melissa Gilbert is strongly endorsing the guild’s plans to beef up enforcement of its ban on non-union work at foreign locations.

Gilbert, in a speech set for today at an education/outreach panel discussion at the AFL-CIO’s convention in Las Vegas, will indicate that she considers the issue a top priority of her administration.

The speech discloses a SAG estimate that the guild/industry pension and health funds have lost $23 million due to SAG members working on non-union contracts overseas during the past five years.

“Left unchecked, over the next five years, SAG estimates that losses will approach $36 million,” she will emphasize in her remarks. “Additionally, the loss of residual payments to our members and safety on the set is insurmountable.”

SAG’s national board voted unanimously last summer to begin clamping down next May on members working for nonsignatory producers, although it has not yet specified what the penalties will be.

Recent years have seen a growing willingness of SAG members to work without a contract at overseas locations, often for far less than the SAG contract minimums and without pension and health contributions.

Rule One not enforced

Additionally, SAG staff has not widely enforced Rule One, which explicitly bars members from working for nonsignatories on foreign productions.

Gilbert’s call is the latest from a high-profile SAG performer to urge the 98,500 members to refuse work on non-union contracts. Kevin Spacey, Laurence Fishburne, Holly Hunter, Harrison Ford and 11th VP Tess Harper have also issued similar appeals over the past year.

“While producers have failed to provide SAG contracts, the Screen Actors Guild must take responsibility for educating its members,” Gilbert wrote in the speech. “The obstacle was, and continues to be, education and communication.”

SAG sought expansion of the scope of its contract during film-TV contract negotiations earlier this year but achieved no progress after being told by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers that the issue was not subject to the collective bargaining agreement.

Gilbert will note that SAG’s current drive to improve Rule One enforcement stems from drastic changes in the past 15 years. “The era of offshore money and shell corporations utilized to produce otherwise American entertainment product has ushered in a sense of urgency to expand Rule One to cover work abroad,” reads the text of the speech. “Simply, put, where our members go, their SAG contract follows.”

Teaching key

Gilbert will cite the educational efforts and credit Spacey in particular with helping to get the campaign off the ground. “Currently, our Global Rule One endorsement list carries the names of over 200 celebrity members –members who have the ability to green light a movie,” she added.

“As this wall of solidarity grows, the implementation of the rule becomes clear. Producers can no longer secure SAG talent without a SAG contract. Our members with clout are standing up for themselves and for their colleagues in a classic show of union solidarity.”