A faction of the Screen Actors Guild on Friday called for the union to suspend an upcoming vote to authorize a strike amid stalled negotiations with Hollywood producers.
The announcement represents a major split between the union's Hollywood leadership and a more moderate group based in New York. The group hopes its opposition will force the union to rethink the timing of its vote scheduled for January.
"Our members and our industry are struggling through the worst economic crisis in memory," the New York board said in a statement. "While issuing a strike authorization may have been a sensible strategy in October, we believe it is irresponsible to do so now."
The New York division's 14 board members also called for the 71-member national board to hold an emergency meeting to appoint new negotiators to work with the American Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the major studios.
"With a fresh team, the AMPTP will return to the table, and we can get a fair deal," the New York board wrote. "A deal that will not cost careers, homes, lives. We want our members to understand that while strikes are sometimes unavoidable, we will do everything in our power to avoid this one."
SAG President Alan Rosenberg said he was surprised by the announcement because the group did not approach him first. He said he agreed to call an emergency meeting to discuss "this extraordinarily destructive and subversive action." He would not say when the meeting would be held or what effect the board's opposition may have on the scheduled vote.
SAG plans to send strike authorization ballots to more than 100,000 union members on Jan. 2, a date that puts Oscar night within reach of a potential boycott. Votes will be counted on Jan. 23, ahead of the Feb. 22 Academy Awards, the most important date on the Hollywood awards calendar.
Approval by 75 percent of voting members is required to pass the measure. If it is approved, the SAG national board can call a strike.
Studios and the actors union have been negotiating a new deal since before the previous contract expired June 30.
SAG wants union coverage for all Internet-only productions regardless of budget and residual payments for Internet productions replayed online, as well as continued actor protections during work stoppages.
Directors, writers, stagehands and another actors union settled for lesser terms and the studios said it was unreasonable for SAG to demand a better deal, especially now that the economy has worsened.
AMPTP spokesman Jesse Hiestand declined to comment on the board's announcement.
Meanwhile, the guild has been sending e-mails, fact sheets and Web video testimonials by famous actors urging members to vote for the strike authorization. It said Mel Gibson, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, Martin Sheen and other actors were among the first signers of SAG's "Statement of Support."
The actors union, however, appears to be in transition. In guild elections in September, an upstart group called Unite For Strength broke up the majority control of the national board that had been held by Rosenberg's supporters. But the Unite group has not clarified its position on the strike vote.
The guild plans a town hall meeting Monday in New York and another one Wednesday in Hollywood.