SAG dissidents rally outside Fox

Ed Asner, Sally Kirkland lead protest

SAG’s staying silent about its latest stalemate with the congloms even as there’s no sign of movement toward a feature-primetime deal — nine months after that pact expired.

With negotiations stuck over the issue of the date for contract expiration, about 50 opponents of the companies’ final offer rallied Wednesday in the drizzle outside 20th Century Fox.

The three-hour event, aimed at urging SAG members to vote down the ratification if it’s ever sent out, featured sidewalk speeches at a half-hour news conference by former SAG president Ed Asner, former board member Sally Kirkland and veteran actors Larry Gelman and Scott Wilson. The quartet blasted the final offer from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, alleging its new-media provisions will destroy SAG by making it impossible for middle-class actors to make a living.

“We have enough economic problems in the world without putting this union out of business,” Kirkland said. “I’m just asking the CEOs to think humanely.”

Negotiations between SAG and the AMPTP cratered two weeks ago over the issue of when SAG’s contract would expire, with the guild pushing for a two-year deal and the congloms insisting on a three-year term. SAG’s indicated it wants back-channel meetings with the moguls to hammer out a compromise, but the only recent development has been the confirmation that AMPTP prexy Nick Counter will retire on March 31.

Wilson, who served on the now-abolished negotiating committee, noted that the current SAG leadership has agreed to the rest of the final offer.

“It’s still the same lousy deal in every other respect,” Wilson said. “The members of the SAG board don’t understand what’s in the best interests of actors.”

Asner, who served as guild president between 1981 and 1985, said the national board should send out a strike authorization to members — a step that’s been opposed by the board’s moderate majority and a significant number of high-profile actors including Matt Damon, George Clooney and Tom Hanks. The moderates fired national exec director Doug Allen and replaced the negotiating committee in late January out of frustration with Allen’s strategy of pushing for an authorization vote.

“It’s a shame that we don’t see more of our high-profile members against this,” Asner added.

Wilson said the rally marked the first in a series of similar events that will be targeted at the congloms.

Attendees at the rally also hammered the tentative deal before members of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, especially over a proposed tightening of eligibility for health and pension benefits.

SAG’s board decided on Feb. 21 on a split vote against sending out a strike authorization to members, which would have needed a steep 75% endorsement from those voting to pass. Over the objections of the hardline Membership First faction, the moderates have contended that seeking the authorization would be counter-productive at a time that the economy continues to fall apart.

SAG’s website, however, still endorses a strike authorization and blasts the AMPTP’s offer. And in a message to Hollywood members sent Wednesday in the Hollywood Call Sheet, First VP Anne-Marie Johnson blistered the moderates, accusing them of “disparaging and undermining the hard work” by Allen and the negotiating committee.

Johnson also asserted that the AMPTP’s “last, best, final” offer should be sent out in its current form and then voted down by the members.

“What are we waiting for?” she said. “In my opinion, the deal is not going to improve. Please log onto AMPTP.org to read the AMPTP’s LBF offer, if you haven’t done so already. It is a BAD DEAL. Forty-four days of actual negotiations, two days of mediation and three days of resumed negotiations with the revamped task force proved that the AMPTP had/has no intention of working with SAG to create an acceptable deal, potentially securing labor peace for years to come–regardless of who was sitting across the negotiating table.”

For its part, the AMPTP’s website still contains a counter that calculates how much money SAG members have lost by failing to accept the congloms’ three-year offer on June 30, including $250 million in pay gains. As of Wednesday, the loss figure had topped $56.6 million.

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