SAG: 30 hours, zilch

Backers save strike vote, Allen with marathon maneuvers

Can you say Square One? MDoug Allen, SAG's chief negotiator and national executive director, almost was fired during a marathon 30-hour national board meeting that ended Tuesday. Allen narrowly held onto his positions, at least temporarily, after national president Alan Rosenberg and his fellow MembershipFirst partisans beat back a measure that would have dismissed him.

As of Tuesday afternoon, with the national board slowly dispersing, SAG's leadership indicated that "no substantive actions were taken." In other words, nothing has changed in their control of the guild, though a date for sending out the controversial strike-authorization vote has not yet been chosen.

"We've got to regroup a bit," Rosenberg said after the meeting. "I'm thrilled that Doug is still our lead negotiator. If I were more rested, I'd be even happier."

Adding to the bizarre nature of the proceedings, the session included allegations of voter fraud and an eight-hour debate to extend the meeting by three hours — for a net loss of five hours.

More ominously, the session ended with no clear indication of where the guild, the negotiations or the industry will go from here.

The emergency national board meeting began before 9 a.m. Monday and pushed on through the night into Tuesday afternoon, when organizers had scheduled a hard-stop time of 1 p.m. Within an hour of the official end of the proceedings, exhausted-looking board members could be seen stumbling out to their cars.

No follow-up national board meetings were scheduled, though the Hollywood Division board meets Thursday.

Guild sources contend that the moderates had the votes to pass their measure, which would have removed Allen as chief negotiator, disbanded the negotiating committee and recalled the proposed strike-authorization vote.

But MembershipFirst's parliamentary maneuvers — such as encouraging their partisans on the 71-member board to speak twice on the controversial resolution, introducing competing resolutions and then having debate on those — successfully kept the omnibus measure from reaching the floor. Per the guild's constitution, the SAG board needs 67% of those voting (47 if all 71 are present) to cut off debate; the moderates did not have the votes to do so.

Moderates on the board — from the New York and regional branch divisions and the Hollywood-based faction Unite for Strength — wanted to hit the reset button on long-stalled talks between SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The removal of Allen, a lightning rod for board members outside of Hollywood for most of his two years in the job, was central to their strategy.

Rosenberg said a document was delivered at the end of the meeting Tuesday, presumably by those insurgent moderate factions, purporting to deal with "the employment of the national executive director and the continuing approach to negotiations."

As a parting shot, Rosenberg notified national board members and alternates that SAG counsel determined that it "does not constitute a valid written assent, for several reasons, including a lack of sufficient signatures and the absence of any language on the document demonstrating the intent of the signers to grant their assent to the proposal."

Rosenberg concluded his statement: "Guild national executive director and chief negotiator Doug Allen and the national television and theatrical contract negotiating committee remain committed to advancing the cause of actors and our crucial contract negotiations."

SAG's next move is uncertain, but political paralysis has been part of Hollywood's largest union for much of the past decade. The guild has had five executive directors in eight years, two of whom did not sit well with MembershipFirst and did not necessarily exit by choice: Bob Pisano was eased out; Greg Hessinger was fired.

Stephen Diamond, an associate professor of labor law at Santa Clara University, was close to becoming the NED but withdrew his candidacy over governance issues. The guild then hired Allen. In an interview, Diamond said he does not think it is possible for SAG to make much progress for a new TV-and-film contract if Allen stays.

"The only way to manage an exit strategy here is to change the team and bring in a delegation of anti-strike A-listers to sit at the table," he said. "Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Sally Field and Susan Sarandon are responsible for what's happening in some way."

Those actors and other high-profile members, such as Kevin Spacey and Steve Carell, signed a petition urging a no vote for the strike-authorization ballots, which were scheduled to be mailed Jan. 2, but the move was postponed when two UFS board members asked for the special board meeting.

There was no immediate word on whether ballots would be sent out. For the national board to get the authority to call a strike, it would need 75% of members who vote to approve. The odds seem long, given that the vote-no petition now includes more than 2,000 names; a similar vote-yes petition has about 4,000 names.

"For Doug to get back in that chair would be really tough," said an industry observer with experience in Hollywood labor negotiations. "It's unimaginable to me how they can move forward. It's a clearly untenable situation when a majority of the board has expressed a desire for him to leave."

If Allen is eventually forced out — moderates could call another national board meeting if they get enough votes — each of the past three NEDs would have been fired or forced out, likely making it difficult for SAG to find a replacement.

Back Stage news editor Andrew Salomon reported from New York; Jay A. Fernandez reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed to this report.