MembershipFirst chimes in

SAG faction backs Allen and supports his call for a vote on the contract

Nine days after a group of SAG moderates failed to oust national executive director Doug Allen, the guild's hard-line faction MembershipFirst has issued a statement supporting Allen and called for the AMPTP's offer for a new TV and film contract to be sent to members for a straight up-or-down vote.

It would be the first time in memory that SAG sent a contract to its members with a neutral or negative recommendation. Despite the unprecedented nature, the move would be in keeping with the unique, at times bizarre, behavior of the guild during the past year or so.

MembershipFirst, which includes president Alan Rosenberg, first vp Anne-Marie Johnson, a vast majority of the Hollywood board and nine out of 13 members of the negotiating committee, has campaigned against the offer since it was issued nearly seven months ago. They object to several terms, including the ones governing jurisdiction and compensation in content made originally for the Web.

After a 28-hour board meeting failed to force Allen from his job, he issued a compromise to the moderates: suspend the strike-authorization vote and send the producers' offer to members. That was rejected by the moderates.

Sam Freed, SAG's second national vp and president of the New York board, said last week: "It is irresponsible and cynical at best to suggest that the guild could send out a contract referendum to the members with a neutral recommendation. The guild, under the direction of Doug Allen, has spent the last eight months and hundreds of thousands of dollars of members' money criticizing the contract in an effort to manipulate the membership."

On Monday, Todd Hissong, a moderate and president of the Chicago board, sent Allen a letter demanding his resignation. It soon was followed by an e-mail to members from "the National Board Majority." Without directly calling for Allen's resignation, it stated that the guild needed a "new course and a new captain."

MembershipFirst, which has dominated the Hollywood board for most of the decade and had control of the national board until September's elections, re-staked a claim to the word "majority" in the most recent letter by dint of its ownership of 37 of 55 Hollywood seats.

"We, the majority of the Screen Actors Guild Hollywood Division Board," the letter began, "representing over 70,000 SAG members, responsible for over 65% of the work covered by the TV/theatrical contract, support our national executive director/ chief negotiator Doug Allen in his tireless efforts. … We … also support the compromise presented by Doug Allen to the national board to suspend the strike authorization and to send the AMPTP's final offer out to the membership."

The letter, which never uses the term "MembershipFirst," also states that the Hollywood majority does not believe a strike-authorization vote would pass.

"Although many believe in sending out the strike authorization, we have come to the realization that through questionable tactics used by the AMPTP, AMPTP operatives, industry CEOs, industry-dependent media, high-profile producer/ actors and certain members of the board, reaching the obligatory 75% of the SAG membership would be hard to achieve. We believe the compromise suggested by Doug Allen, supported by president Alan Rosenberg, secretary/treasurer Connie Stevens, first vp Anne-Marie Johnson and the overwhelming majority of the Hollywood board, is the right path to take considering the circumstances."

Andrew Salomon is news editor at Back Stage.