SAG considers ending strike threat

Guild's national board set meeting

SAG’s leaders may pull the plug as early as Monday on the guild’s divisive strike authorization vote at what is certain to be a volatile meeting of the guild’s national board.

The moderate wing of the Screen Actors Guild’s fractured national board may also follow through on its stated intention to oust the union’s negotiating committee along with removing national exec director Doug Allen from his slot as chief negotiator.

The depth of the nastiness of SAG’s internal politics over the strike vote issue was illustrated by the revelation late last week of a suggested boycott campaign of eight actors up for SAG awards due to their opposition to the authorization vote. SAG president Alan Rosenberg told Daily Variety that he condemned the effort but he understands the “anger and frustration” of members who support a strike authorization.

“Nobody should let guild politics influence how they vote in the SAG Awards because the awards are designed solely to celebrate great work by actors,” Rosenberg added. “But I also understand the anger and frustration of members who want a strike authorization as our best way to improve this unacceptable deal while the board has thrown the process into confusion.”

The boycott came to light last week after a significant number of SAG members received a pair of anonymous emails forwarded by national board member Frances Fisher. In her email, Fisher asked that her name and email be removed if the recipient chose to forward the letters.

In response, former SAG president and current board member Richard Masur compared the anonymous email to a blacklist and called on Fisher to repudiate it. The anonymous email singled out Josh Brolin (who was nominated for “Milk”), Kevin Spacey (“Recount”), Susan Sarandon (“Bernard and Doris”), Michael C. Hall (“Dexter”), Sally Field (“Brothers and Sisters”), Alec Baldwin (“30 Rock”), Steve Carell (“The Office”) and Tony Shalhoub (“Monk”).

“If I were a regular, ordinary, not-rich-and-famous actor, and if I wanted my union to be strong so it could fight for me … would I want to give any of these rich-and-famous union-underminers my vote?” one of the anonymous emails said. “Would I want my union to give them such an honor — my union’s ultimate stamp-of-approval? I would remember those names when I began to mark my ballot.”

Masur said there has never in its 15-year history been an attempt to politicize the SAG Awards.

“These awards were conceived of as an opportunity for actors to be honored by their peers,” he added. “The sole criterion for the awarding of these honors has been artistic achievement. That must continue to be the case. The SAG Awards have meant a great deal to the members, the guild and the SAG Foundation, as well as all the honorees. It would be a shame if this worthy process were to be sullied by this political manipulation.”

Masur said Fisher should send out a message to everyone to whom she sent the email with an apology and a condemnation. “That would go a long way toward repairing the perception that she meant to support and encourage this kind of outrageous blacklisting,” he added.

Fisher was not available for comment. But SAG’s awards committee issued a statement condemning the anonymous email.

“The Screen Actors Guild Awards has always been and will always remain nonpolitical,” the panel said. “It is unfortunate that a few people have chosen to attempt to politicize our annual salute to excellence in our profession. We know actors value outstanding performances and cherish their yearly opportunity to commend the good work of their peers above all else. We look forward to celebrating the achievements of our nominees on Jan. 25.”

The flap over the awards boycott momentarily diverted SAG-watchers attention from the looming showdown at Monday’s emergency national board meeting.

The removal of the current negotiating committee could help break the months-long stalemate between SAG and the congloms over the feature-primetime master contract. But that won’t occur without a fight from guild supporters of the authorization, who lost their board majority in September and may attempt to persuade the board to send out the congloms’ final offer to members — but with a “vote no” recommendation.

SAG leaders have insisted that the authorization — which requires 75% support among those voting — will give the guild more leverage in its contract negotiations with Hollywood’s majors. Opponents, including George Clooney and Tom Hanks, have contended that a strike threat should not be considered given the economic crisis.

The authorization ballot was to be sent out Jan. 2, but after protests from SAG’s New York board and nearly 2,000 members, Rosenberg delayed the start of the three-week referendum process and skedded the board meeting to address the dissent. He noted Sunday that 97% of the board had voted in October to support the authorization if mediation failed.

“The idea of mounting a vote no campaign is almost absurd,” Rosenberg said. “We should have been out with a strike authorization by now.”

Supporters of the authorization have asserted repeatedly that the new-media terms of the congloms’ final offer will lead to the eventual elimination of residuals — a contention that’s widely derided by the companies, noting that the DGA, WGA, AFTRA and IATSE have agreed to similar terms.

SAG’s website lists 3,800 members who support the strike authorization, including Mel Gibson, Holly Hunter and Martin Sheen.

The two-day meeting is scheduled to begin this morning at SAG headquarters with dueling demonstrations planned prior to the session — one by Membership First supporters of the authorization and another by below-the-line crew members opposed to a strike.

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