SAG factions battle for board

Strategy is key for MembershipFirst, Unite for Strength

A divided SAG is nothing new.

When the union was formed in 1933, there were actors who supported forming a performers union and those who opposed it.

Not much has changed in 75 years as Tuesday's announcement of 84 candidates out of Hollywood vying for seats on the union's national board demonstrated.

The New York division has 20 candidates in the running for five national board seats and nine alternates. There also are seven other national board seats for branches outside of Hollywood and New York open.

In addition, the Hollywood division has 11 seats for the national board open, along with 22 alternates. Two factions have emerged in the battle for those seats.

On one side is MembershipFirst, the faction that currently holds the majority of SAG's national board and Hollywood board. MembershipFirst has 22 incumbents and 11 newcomers looking to fill the 23 open seats on the national board.

On the other side is Unite for Strength, a group that came together during the current negotiations stalemate by members frustrated with what they see as MembershipFirst's focus on battling sister union AFTRA at the expense of getting a new deal with the studios.

MembershipFirst's slate wants to continue what it calls a four-year streak of "firsts" for the guild, citing the development of an online actors' directory, iActor as well as forming new technology/new media and organizing departments within the guild and negotiating basic cable residuals.

"We're the first group to help create a $20 million surplus," said Anne-Marie Johnson, a SAG board member and MembershipFirster. "We're also the first group to oversee SAG's commercials contract topping the $800 million mark."

Unite for Strength, led by veteran actor Ned Vaughn, lists new media as its top issue but also is focusing on unity among the guild and disposing of factionalism that it says has "damaged the guild's effectiveness."

"We offer instead our commitment to service and our extensive personal experience of what it takes to make a living in this tough business," the group says on its Web site. "We know that putting SAG's membership first means getting results for actors; talking tough is meaningless if it isn't backed up with strategy and unity."