Family feud brews as SAG, studios meet

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Wednesday's sidebar meeting between SAG and the studios provided more of what industry watchers have become accustomed to: talk and no apparent progress.

After meeting for more than two hours at AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks, the two sides said in a statement that the discussion would be kept private and that no further meetings were scheduled.

The off-the-record "sidebar meeting" between small teams from each side was the second time the two SAG and studio reps have met face-to-face since bargaining broke off June 30, the day SAG's contract expired.

Meanwhile, a political war within SAG has been brewing beneath the surface.

MembershipFirst, the faction of actors that holds the majority of seats on SAG's Hollywood and national boards, has been a key supporter of SAG president Alan Rosenberg and national executive director Doug Allen throughout this rocky past year. The faction — which includes board members Justine Bateman, Frances Fisher and JoBeth Williams — led the guild's "Vote No" campaign against AFTRA's recently ratified primetime contract and has stood by the current administration.

However, notable New York board members — including SAG 2nd vp Sam Freed, former New York board president Paul Christie and former SAG president Richard Masur — have been just as outspoken in opposing many of the leadership's moves. The New Yorkers are more sympathetic to AFTRA's positions on basic cable and bloc voting, and they have advocated a less aggressive approach in the negotiations with the AMPTP.

The two sides could clash soon, with about one-third of the 69 seats on SAG's boards nationwide up for election in September. The Hollywood board will elect 11 national board members and 22 alternates; the New York board will elect five national board members and nine alternates. Hollywood and New York branch ballots will be mailed Aug. 19 and are due Sept. 18.

Board elections may not seem like a high priority as the contentious contract talks come to a crucial pass, but the steps SAG leaders take in the next few days vis-a-vis the AMPTP's "last, best and final offer" could affect who will control the guild's boards. SAG and the AMPTP have agreed to continue working under the terms of the expired contract for the time being, but many major studio features have shut down production.

The stagnant state of negotiations could figure in the elections in several ways.

If Rosenberg and Allen are forced to accept the AMPTP's final offer, SAG members might blame them for taking a lesser deal and consequently oust MembershipFirsters from the boards. However, guild voters also could blame the administration for perpetuating a de facto strike if the negotiations are still going on in September. Members also might be bitter about the MembershipFirst-dominated national board's decision to spend thousands of dollars in guild funds on an unsuccessful campaign against AFTRA's contract.

Also complicating matters is the possibility that some of SAG's celebrity members recently who involved themselves in union politics could form a new party and run for the available board seats.

Lauren Horwitch is news editor at Back Stage West.
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