New cast targets SAG brass

Pro-AFTRA merger faction to seek board seats

Backed by well-known performers and upset by the current state of contract negotiations with producers, actor Ned Vaughn has formed a new political party within SAG to try to unseat ruling faction MembershipFirst in national board elections in the fall.

Thirty-one actors from the new party, named Unite for Strength, will vie for Hollywood's 11 national board seats and 22 local seats that will be contested Sept. 18. Among those on the slate are Amy Brenneman, Kate Walsh, Dule Hill, Adam Arkin and Doug Savant.

MembershipFirst dominates the Hollywood board, holding 32 of the 33 seats. It came to power in 2005 and has increased its ranks in each election since. As the majority, it has twice carried Alan Rosenberg to the national presidency, hired national executive director Doug Allen and is the controlling voice on all negotiating committees, including the one that is locked in a stalemate with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over a new TV and film contract. However, Vaughn and Unite for Strength are betting that MembershipFirst's hard-line posture, which appears to have isolated the guild from most of the industry, will deliver a victory.

As its name indicates, Unite for Strength's central goal is to merge SAG with AFTRA, its sister union and longtime bargaining partner that recently negotiated a new primetime network TV contract by itself for the first time in nearly 30 years. Unite for Strength also wants to heal the guild's internal rift between Hollywood on one side and the guild's New York and regional branches on the other.

"With the immense challenges actors face today, we need all the strength we can muster," Vaughn said. "And that means electing union leadership that is committed to uniting actors to fight for our common future. We can no longer afford leaders who sow division."

Vaughn, a consistently working if not well-known actor, came to prominence in February when he spearheaded a drive to limit the voting on contracts to members who have worked within the past six years. Although he garnered about 1,500 signatures, the MembershipFirst wing of the national board refused to consider the measure.

To assume control, Unite for Strength would have to wrest power from MembershipFirst, a group of actors that attained the majority in 2005 by taking a hard-line stand against any who would question the power or uniqueness of Hollywood's largest union. That posture has increased MembershipFirst's numbers in each election since. The faction is bitterly opposed to merger, and its members were among those who worked to defeat the past two attempts, in 1999 and 2003.

Vaughn, however, believes that the climate has changed significantly to carry Unite for Strength to power and, eventually, produce a merger.

"There is one critical element this time that we've never had before," Vaughn said. "We have seen all those things that were warned about five years ago when the last merger attempt failed. Those weren't Chicken Little ramblings. That was reality, and reality is coming home to roost right now."