A stumbling bloc for SAG

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SAG's board recently voted to implement bloc voting -- a controversial procedural change -- on its next joint negotiating committee with AFTRA, but a little problem has come to light: The change could require a constitutional amendment at the guild.

With bloc voting, SAG members on the negotiating committee would hold a separate vote on any issue under discussion, then cast unanimous votes in joint balloting with AFTRA committee members. The plan aims to mollify SAG board members pushing for the even more radical step of abandoning joint negotiations with AFTRA.

For decades, SAG and AFTRA together have negotiated collective bargaining agreements for primetime dramatic TV, part of all-important film and TV negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. The groups' current such pacts expire June 30, and many believe this is no time for the labor groups to be squabbling among themselves.

But others at SAG hold deep resentments against AFTRA, which they claim often encroaches on guild turf. Those grievances gave rise to a push for revisions in the collective bargaining relationship between the unions.

In July, when news reports circulated of a SAG board vote to institute bloc voting, AFTRA officials demanded an explanation. The concept runs contrary to the terms and spirit of the labor organizations' long-standing "Phase One" agreement governing their negotiating partnership, they argued.

"Bloc voting is obviously a way to abrogate Phase One without actually doing away with it," said one industryite with a detailed understanding of the situation.

Yet it's unlikely bloc voting could be implemented without a related change in the SAG constitution, the insider said, and that would require a two-thirds approval from the guild's board. (Certain sorts of constitutional changes require membership votes, while others can be accomplished through board action.)

For now, that appears a bigger board majority than could be mustered. But SAG president Alan Rosenberg and national exec director Doug Allen apparently have been working to broaden support for bloc voting.

It should be noted that the legal context of the bloc voting question is complicated, with interested parties arguing the constitutionality of the matter a number of ways. But what's clear is a geographical split on the SAG board, with those based outside of Hollywood largely opposed to the bloc voting proposal in any event.

"Any attempt to actually implement bloc voting would, I think, split the guild irreparably," said Paul Christie, president of SAG New York and second national vp at the guild. "You would essentially be creating SAG Hollywood and SAG National."

AFTRA -- guaranteed 50-50 representation on negotiating committees under Phase One terms -- has yet to hear back from the guild on its bloc voting query, AFTRA spokesman John Hinrichs said Wednesday.

SAG general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland was unavailable for comment. Other SAG staff refused to speak about the controversy, citing confidentiality rules governing recent board decisions.

"None of the actions taken by the board of directors at the July 28 plenary violated the Screen Actors Guild constitution," SAG spokeswoman Pamela Greenwalt said.

Asked whether bloc voting could run into legal gray areas if fully implemented, Greenwalt declined comment.

Christie said he hopes the bloc voting policy is never implemented.

"I hope people realize this is a well-intentioned mistake and we see our way around this before any real damage is done," the New York president said.
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