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SAG braces for fight over board size, mix

Proposal would give Hollywood branch 34 of 62 seats

The Screen Actors Guild is facing a potentially brutal internal battle at the end of this week over recommendations to cut its board size from 105 to 62 and give Hollywood thesps a majority on the panel.

Under a proposal designed to give more accurate representation of SAG’s members by region, the Hollywood branch would have 34 of the 62 seats, including the two slots going to the president and the secretary/treasurer. Hollywood’s members comprise 53.5% of SAG’s 98,000 members.

Currently, L.A. members are repped by 51 of the 105 seats, so the plan will shift power within SAG toward Hollywood actors and away from the guild’s two dozen smaller branches. The plan, to be considered at SAG’s national plenary meeting this weekend, has already provoked stringent resistance from branch reps.

“We may see some blood on the floor,” one board member predicted.

The branch reps have often allied in opposition to Los Angeles-led initiatives, fueling further resentment among board members. Hollywood reps point out that L.A.-based members generate well over 60% of SAG earnings, which in turn produces the Guild’s key income source from dues revenue.

Bad timing

The fate of SAG’s branches has become a major distraction for the union’s leaders at a time when they already face an array of complex problems, headed by upcoming contract negotiations that may lead to a strike after the June 30 contract expiration. Reps of the branches have allied with opponents of Los Angeles leaders to battle another proposal that would have closed as many as 20 smaller SAG offices; that idea has been temporarily deferred (Daily Variety, March 21).

The plan would allocate 15 seats to New York, based on its 25% share of membership, while the remaining 13 seats would go to the branches, based on their 21.4% membership.

SAG’s constitution currently provides that each branch with at least 100 members receive a seat, which ensures that even the smallest SAG branches are individually repped on the board. The new plan, which allocates one seat per every 1,757 members, will mean that some of the smaller branches will have to join together in electing a single rep.

For example, the Minnesota and St. Louis members will be mixed in with Chicago’s; members repped by the North Carolina and Puerto Rico branches will be added to Florida’s membership count; and Cleveland members will be added to Detroit.

‘Team’ recommendations

The “governance team” committee that formulated the plan was created as a result of recommendations in the 10-month-old Towers Perrin report, a cost-benefit analysis calling for sweeping changes in SAG’s operations. Towers Perrin’s consultants suggested that SAG’s board be cut from 105 to 40 members, a change that it said would make the panel less unwieldy and create $600,000 in annual savings.

The governance team indicated that it has sought the middle ground on its proposal, labeling it a compilation of several approaches. “It is intended to represent a compromise plan, building on a perceived consensus developing in the committee,” the team noted.

The proposal also calls for combining the two posts of recording secretary and treasurer into the single office of secretary treasurer and shrinking the number of national veepees from 12 to three. Currently, all 13 of those officers sit on the board; under the new plan, the veeps will not sit on the board and will rep Hollywood, New York and the branches.

SAG’s national executive committee will shrink slightly, with total membership going from 30 to 25. That panel will be comprised of the president, secretary-treasurer, the three veeps, 11 Hollywood members, five New York members and four branch members.

Report suggested cuts

The Towers Perrin report recommended labor-expense cuts of up to $6.6 million annually, along with other expense reductions of $2 million. Report was commissioned as a condition of the board’s 1999 decision to seek member approval of a dues increase.

Board members affiliated with the Performers Alliance, which helped sweep William Daniels into office later that year, have been the major supporters of creating the report and implementing its recommendations.

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