SAG leaders look for unity

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Brian Watt/KPCC

SAG President Alan Rosenberg

SAG members have spoken. After a year-long drama, members of the Screen Actors Guild have voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new contract for film and prime-time television. KPCC’s Brian Watt says the members of the largest actor’s union may be on the same page, but the Guild’s leadership remains divided.

Brian Watt: While SAG members worked under the terms of an expired contract for almost a year, the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers kept a running tally of the millions of dollars they were missing out on. Most industry watchers figured that most SAG voters were weary, but few expected more than three-quarters of voters across the country to support the contract. Entertainment lawyer Jonathan Handel told KPCC’s "AirTalk" that the Hollywood results stunned him.

Jonathan Handel: This was supposedly the stronghold of Alan Rosenberg and his hardline Membership First faction, and instead they were decisively repudiated even in their home divisions. About 71 percent to 29 percent. That’s almost 3 to 1.

Watt: SAG President Alan Rosenberg had led a campaign against the contract. Sure, there are pay increases in it and the first residuals ever for actors' work available on the Internet. Rosenberg and his faction contended that wasn’t enough – and a lot of productions could go straight to the Web without any SAG jurisdiction.

Supporters, from actor-producer hybrid Tom Hanks on down, countered that this was the best deal SAG could get for now. It also expires in two years – about the time other unions’ contracts do. So, they can all work together... right?

Alan Rosenberg: Hollywood labor has never presented a united front. You know I hope we do as much as we can, but what...

Watt: That’s SAG president Alan Rosenberg as he waited for the final vote tally.

Rosenberg: You know... where’s the incentive for those other unions to stand up for a background performer’s right to be considered a professional for the purpose of new media productions? You know, a lot of these are issues that actors have to take care of themselves.

Watt: Rosenberg also told reporters he planned to seek a third term as Guild president. After the vote result, he adopted a more conciliatory tone.

Rosenberg: Starting tomorrow I’ll contact the presidents of other unions. Try to begin a series of summit meetings where we can begin to share information and strategize about 2010 and 2011.

Watt: Attorney Jonathan Handel, who also blogs about Hollywood labor, said Rosenberg could be wasting his time.

Handel: I don’t think Alan Rosenberg, with all due respect, has any credibility in terms of dealing with the other unions, most of which he’s alienated, in fact.

Watt: Alan Rosenberg and his more militant faction began losing power late last year when the moderate Unite for Strength camp seized a slim majority of seats on SAG’s national board. They sacked the union’s chief negotiator and retooled SAG’s negotiating committee. Ned Vaughn is a spokesman for Unite for Strength.

Ned Vaughn: The idea that all of the unions will work together is certainly not something that has happened to a great extent in the past. But SAG and AFTRA representing the interest of actors is not idealism at all. That has happened every negotiation except for this one for the previous 25 years. And boy, we saw what happens when they negotiate separately. It’s not pretty.

Watt: More than a year ago, SAG’s sister union, AFTRA, split off to cut its own deal with the producers’ alliance. SAG essentially reached the same deal a year later. Vaughn and his colleagues want at least to patch up that partnership and to reconsider the idea of merging the two unions.

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