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SAG nominations come as strike vote looms

Though the spotlight was on Screen Actors Guild Awards nominees Thursday, concerns about division within the union and a looming strike vote weren't far in the background.Strike authorization ballots are set to go out Jan. 2, and the guild has become openly divided in recent days on how to proceed. Dozens of A-list actors have signed public letters both in support of and against the strike vote.Gu
/ Source: The Associated Press

Though the spotlight was on Screen Actors Guild Awards nominees Thursday, concerns about division within the union and a looming strike vote weren't far in the background.

Strike authorization ballots are set to go out Jan. 2, and the guild has become openly divided in recent days on how to proceed. Dozens of A-list actors have signed public letters both in support of and against the strike vote.

Guild president Alan Rosenberg said he hadn't seen many of the nominated performances because he's been so mired in negotiations — both with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the divided union.

"Nobody wants a strike in this town or in this country less than I do, but I know damn well that we need a strike authorization if were going to get our employers to move," Rosenberg said Thursday. "They have not dealt with us in good faith, in my opinion, because they don't think we can get this strike authorization, and it is frustrating. This is not a vote for a strike. This is strike authorization. This is collective bargaining 101."

A spokesman for the producers said Thursday that the guild's negotiating strategy has "failed badly."

"Make no mistake about it: If actors vote to strike, then actors will soon be striking," said AMPTP spokesman Jesse Hiestand. "SAG has shown no willingness to compromise, and a strike is all SAG has left. Strike or no strike, SAG does not deserve a better deal than the rest of the industry negotiated earlier this year during far better economic times."

The guild is seeking union coverage for all Internet-only productions regardless of budget, residual payments for Internet productions replayed in ad-supported platforms online and continued actor benefits during work stoppages, including those caused by strikes by other unions.

The studios have said a formula for payment in new media formats has already been agreed upon by directors, another actors union and the writers union, whose 100-day strike led to the cancellation of the Golden Globe Awards in January.

Rosenberg said the contract producers are offering "will kill the acting profession."

"I hope people are aware of that and of the devastating impact the failure to get a strike authorization vote will have on our other negotiations," he said, adding that commercial and basic-cable negotiations are set to begin next month.

Actors split on strike vote

Actors on both sides of the issue were among Thursday's nominees. Laura Dern, nominated for her work in the HBO film "Recount," favors the authorization effort, while Alec Baldwin, nominated for his role on NBC's "30 Rock," opposes the strike vote.

"Revolutionary Road" co-stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio said in an interview earlier this week that they oppose SAG leaders' efforts to authorize a strike.

"I fundamentally think that we don't need a strike right now," DiCaprio said. "We all know what's going on in the economy right now. There's unforeseen problems ahead of us. This is unprecedented, what's going on in our economy, and the industry does not need this right now. This is the worst timing in the world for it, so I'm very opposed to that happening. I think it could have horrible ramifications."

"I completely agree, because it's not about people like me and Leo," said Winslet, who earned two SAG nominations, for "Revolutionary Road" and "The Reader." "It's about people who do the voice-over jingle for the commercial and the guys who really rely on getting the occasional voice-over or background walk-on in a commercial. Those are the people who really matter, and they can't afford to lose work."

Rosenberg insisted that strike-authorization ballots would go out in January as planned. They'll be tallied Jan. 23, two days before the SAG Awards are presented. Regardless of the outcome, telecast producer Kathy Connell said she didn't expect the vote to have much effect on the show.

"The actors are going to vote on what they want to do, but when they get to our room, it's all about performances," she said. "It's a way to unify again."