Actors Strike Vote Moves Forward

Screen Actors Guild national executive director Doug Allen enters SAG headquarters in Los Angeles Tuesday Jan. 13, 2009. The prospects for a strike-authorization vote by film and TV actors were unclear Tuesday after board members of the Screen Actors Guild attempted but apparently failed to fire their lead negotiator, Doug Allen, in a two-day meeting. AP Photo/Nick Ut

The Screen Actors Guild will press on with plans for a strike authorization vote but needs to reassess when to send out ballots after the end of a contentious meeting that lasted nearly 30 hours, its president said Tuesday.

A date for the ballots to be mailed out was undecided after a two-day meeting. During the meeting board members attempted but failed to fire the Guild's lead negotiator with Hollywood studios, Doug Allen, SAG's national executive director who supports a strike vote.

Stalling tactics at the meeting were severe, exposing a cavernous divide between a strike vote-supporting Hollywood faction known as Membership First and a coalition forming a majority on the board from New York, the regions and an upstart Hollywood group known as Unite for Strength.

In one example of the vote-delaying debate, Membership First led an eight-hour discussion on whether to extend the end of the first day of the meeting from 10 p.m. Monday to 1 a.m. Tuesday. The debate carried on until 6 a.m.

"We've got to regroup a bit," Guild president Alan Rosenberg said after the meeting ended Tuesday afternoon. "I'm thrilled that Doug is still our lead negotiator. If I were more rested I'd be even happier."

No vote was taken on a motion that would have removed Allen, a former NFL Players Association executive, because it lacked sufficient signatures and other technicalities, according to the guild. Allen has a year left in his three-year contract.

Anne-Marie Johnson, a board member and member of Membership First, said her group peppered opponents with questions about their motion to fire Allen.

"It was flawed enough where debate was so extended, we never got to an official vote," Johnson said.

Ned Vaughn, leader of the Unite For Strength group, which won six of 11 Hollywood board seats up for grabs in a September election, expressed disgust at the meeting's outcome.

"We worked for 28 straight hours but got nothing accomplished, despite our clear board majority," Vaughn said. "Membership First used endless stalling tactics to keep our motion from being voted on."

The motion would have fired Allen, found a replacement, and reconstituted the guild's negotiating committee in an effort to kick-start stalled talks with Hollywood studios.

Actors in the 120,000-member guild have been working without a contract on movies and prime-time TV shows since June 30.

Guild leaders had planned to send out strike authorization ballots by as early as Wednesday, but an exhausted-looking Rosenberg suggested it would not happen that quickly. Last year, a 100-day strike by writers reduced the Golden Globe Awards to a news conference, but a deal was reached quickly enough to save the Academy Awards.

This year, the Globes went off without a hitch and Rosenberg suggested that even the Oscars, set for Feb. 22, might make it by unscathed by a potential actors' boycott, despite the negotiating leverage such a threat might carry.

"The Golden Globes and the Oscars have never been our priority," Rosenberg said. "Getting (strike authorization) is the priority."

A strike vote requires 75 percent support from voting members to succeed. If it is approved, the SAG national board can call a strike. Voting would take about three weeks.

The actors guild has been pressing the major movie studios for a better deal on residual payments for productions made for Internet distribution. It also wanted to ensure continued benefits during work stoppages, including those that are caused by strikes by other unions.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represent the movie studios, declined to comment.

By Ryan Nakashima
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