SAG educates, biz consternates

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With the first of its strike-authorization educational meetings behind it as of Monday night, SAG members and the larger industry await a decision on the balloting.

While insiders say an announcement on the specific date that ballots will go out could be imminent, concerned parties remain in a stressful holding pattern.

Two more educational member meetings are planned — in New York on Monday and in Los Angeles on Dec. 17. SAG president Alan Rosenberg argues that the balloting delay is essential to give leadership time to educate people at the meetings about the necessity of the strike authorization.

"We have a much tougher job than the writers guild had," Rosenberg told The Hollywood Reporter. "When you have 12,000 members (like the WGA), you can basically get the information out to everybody through large meetings or dinner parties. We have 120,000 members spread out across the country, and you can't force them to visit the Web site, so it's difficult. And most of this stuff bears repeating."

With the ballots promised by the end of the year and the holiday vacation season an obstacle that could decrease voter turnout, SAG left with a short window at the end of December in which to navigate. The leadership also is weighing the potential advantage of having the ability to call a strike during the January-February awards season as it works on the timing of the balloting.

To be counted, votes must be returned within three weeks of being sent out. At least a 75% "yes" response is required before the national board can vote on staging a strike.

Unite for Strength, the more moderate faction of SAG that gained a small majority on the board in the recent elections, may be planning its own educational meetings to persuade members to vote "no" on authorization. Some SAG members and interested observers believe that if the strike-authorization vote passes, the U4S faction will be in the untenable position of having to vote against a strike in the face of an overwhelming authorization from the membership.

Rosenberg does not see a strike as a fait accompli.

"It's important that our members know that a strike authorization vote is not a vote to strike," he said. "The ultimate authority to vote on that rests with our newly constituted board, which is more moderate than it has been in years past. Right now, there's no question in my mind that we need a strike authorization in order to get the AMPTP to deal with us in good faith. Should they refuse to come back and bargain with us, in the event we get the strike authorization, then we will have a vigorous debate in our board room about whether to strike. And that debate will go on independent of the fact that we got the strike authorization."

Further complicating the timing of any potential job action or resolution is the possibility that if the SAG negotiations drag on long enough, strike or no strike, the AMPTP may try to change the effective end date of the new, forthcoming contract. As of now, its prospective expiration date is June 30, 2011, which would bring it very close to the May 1, 2011 expiration date of the recently negotiated WGA contract.

SAG this year worked in unprecedented strategic tandem with the WGA during its contract talks, and the closeness of the guilds' contract expiration dates would potentially increase their cooperative leverage in future bargaining. (partialdiff)
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