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SAG leaders confident on strike vote

Despite tough economic times, Screen Actors Guild leaders are confident that their union would vote for a strike if one is called for. The union president pointed out that SAG was founded during the Great Depression.
/ Source: Reuters

Screen Actors Guild leaders said on Monday they are confident union members will support authorizing a strike against major Hollywood studios if the issue is put to a vote, despite a faltering U.S. economy.

Seeking to break a three-month-old deadlock in contract talks with the studios, SAG negotiators last week urged the union’s national governing board to call for a strike authorization from union rank and file.

The board is set to decide the matter at its next meeting on October 18, the first since a dissident faction of moderates made pivotal gains in union elections last month.

What action the newly reconstituted board takes will be the first test of how those elections might alter the dynamics of the labor stalemate. At issue is a new contract covering 120,000 union performers in prime-time TV and movies.

“No matter how hard times are, you can’t let fear and apprehension prompt you to trade away the future,” said SAG president Alan Rosenberg, who was elected in 2005 on a pledge to get tougher with the studios.

Both he and Doug Allen, the union’s executive director and chief labor negotiator, noted that SAG was founded in 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression, after studios sought to impose a 50 percent pay cut on Hollywood actors.

The two sides are at odds over how actors should be paid for work delivered over the Internet and whether all made-for-online productions should be subject to the union’s contract.

Can union muster majority needed?The studios broke off talks on June 30 when they presented SAG with a “final” offer, hours before the old contract lapsed.

Their offer essentially mirrors terms approved by several other Hollywood unions, including the settlement that ended a 14-week strike by Hollywood screenwriters in February.

SAG leaders have pressed to reopen negotiations, but the studios have refused.

Until recently, the union had declined to seek a strike authorization. Many industry watchers doubted SAG could muster the 75 percent majority needed, due in part to lingering fatigue from the writers strike and a slowing economy.

The industry’s bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), cited deteriorating economic conditions in a letter last week rejecting SAG’s latest overtures to restart negotiations.

Two days later, the union’s negotiating committee adopted a resolution recommending a strike authorization vote.

Rosenberg insisted such a move would draw over 90 percent support from union members if the board rallied behind it.

“We have reached a point where the only way we’re going to get the AMPTP off the dime is to show them that we’re willing to go the mat for these issues,” he said. Even if the vote falls short, he added, “we’d be no worse off than we are now.”

The last time SAG staged a strike over its main film and TV contract was in 1980, a walkout that lasted three months.