Dissension in the ranks

SAG's N.Y. board urges 'no' vote on strike; Rosenberg calls it 'subversive'

The AMPTP and SAG's New York board are applying added pressure on guild members to vote against a strike authorization.

As AMPTP president Nick Counter sent a letter Friday to elected officials in several states making the case for its June 30 final offer, SAG's New York board was pushing back hard against guild leadership's recent announcement of the authorization vote set for next month.

SAG national president Alan Rosenberg said he was "shocked and troubled" by the actions of the New York board. He responded to the board's demand for an emergency meeting to appoint a new negotiating task force by saying he would call an emergency board meeting — not to discuss the New York board's demand but to address "this extraordinarily destructive and subversive action."

Separately, SAG announced a "solidarity campaign," pledging support for the strike-authorization vote and listing the names of 30 actors who have signed on. The list includes Mel Gibson, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, Martin Sheen, Sandra Oh, Hal Holbrook, Dixie Carter, John Heard, Jerry O'Connell and Rob Morrow.

California, New York, Illinois and Michigan were the targets of Counter's missive. The states are notable not only for their Democratic tilt and relative support for labor organizations but also for their tax-incentive programs, which Hollywood increasingly uses. A halt to production in these states because of a strike would take away jobs and hurt the states' bottom lines.

"Astonishingly, SAG is demanding that working actors attempt to wipe away the consequences of SAG's failed negotiating strategy by authorizing a strike," Counter wrote. "This strike vote is remarkable because it comes at a time when prominent economists are saying that the current recession may turn out to be the longest and most painful downturn since the Great Depression. … SAG members are being asked to put themselves out of work over issues that have already been resolved by six other Hollywood guilds and unions."

Meanwhile, in the midst of SAG leadership meetings this week with publicists, managers, agents and actors as part of a campaign to persuade them of the need to vote "yes" on a strike authorization, the guild's New York board continued its rogue ways.

Long critical of the current hard-line tactics, the more moderate New York branch is ratcheting up pressure on Rosenberg and SAG chief negotiator Doug Allen to drop the vote, replace the negotiating committee and get the AMPTP back to the table.

Rosenberg said the New York board's "action encourages and emboldens the AMPTP and seriously harms SAG members throughout the country. Apparently, some of the New York board members' responsibilities and obligations to SAG members come behind their own political agenda."

Keri Tombazian, a SAG member for 30 years and former board member, has launched a Web site in support of a "no" strike-authorization vote at sagdecision.com. Tombazian said he belives that the 75% "yes" vote required to authorize the national board to call a strike is far from a sure thing.

SAG will hold further educational meetings for its membership on both coasts today and Wednesday. Strike-authorization ballots are scheduled to be mailed out Jan. 2.

Jay A. Fernandez reported from Los Angeles; Andrew Salomon of Back Stage reported from New York.