SAG's strike call was no balk

Negotiators felt membership vote was decision for the national board

When SAG's negotiating committee sent the strike-authorization decision back to the guild's national board, some members suggested internal politics were the driving force behind the move.

Not so, said MembershipFirst leader Anne-Marie Johnson, who sits on both the negotiating committee and the national board, which in the summer gave the bargaining panel the go-ahead to request a strike vote if it wished.

"This is the contract of our life. This will alter our career. That type of responsibility should be vetted by a larger body," she said, referring to the 71-member national board. Thirteen sit on the negotiating committee.

Johnson also said the move was made out of the respect for the new board members, who will convene at the next meeting Oct. 18. The Hollywood-based MembershipFirst faction, the more militant wing of the guild, has held a majority on the negotiating committee and the national board. However, the election in September of five members of the moderate United for Strength faction has taken away MembershipFirst's majority.

Not every guild member is buying that explanation, or for that matter thinks talking strike makes sense at this point.

In an e-mail sent en masse to members, Ric Reitz, a regional member from Georgia, suggested that the MembershipFirst members of the negotiating panel were lame ducks "overstepping their downstream authority in what ought to be the waning days of their negotiating committee majority."

Johnson fired right back.

"To suggest we are lame duck, renegade, desperate, I don't want to respond to anything so ludicrous and off-target and insulting," she said. "The negotiating committee was given the right to call a strike authorization without having to bring it back to the national board. If we were such irresponsible renegades and desperate, why would a motion endorsed by MembershipFirst take away that right and bring it to the national board?"

It wasn't only MembershipFirst members who drove the negotiating panel's resolution, she pointed out.

"Look at our vote yesterday," she said, referring to the 11-2 margin, which means two non-MembershipFirst panel members were behind it the measure.

Reitz, and others resigned to accepting the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producer's June 30 final offer, suggest that MembershipFirst is putting too much weight on an internal postcard poll in which 10% of the guild's members voted that the committee should continue to hold out.

Johnson didn't deny the poll played a role, but said it was not the driving force behind the decision.

"It's just one ingredient in the process," she said. "There is unanimous support among the negotiating committee regarding the core issues. There was national board support among these core issues."

Johnson said many of the bargaining panel members are working actors who visit sets and talk with actors to form their positions.

"We're not relying on one thing," she said. "It's an accumulation of feedback."

Ned Vaughn, typically one of the more vocal leaders of the United for Strength group, had been conspicuously silent on the issue until responding to a request for comment from The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday.

"The matter of a strike authorization is now in the hands of the national board and that's where it will be dealt with," Vaughn said. "It wouldn't be appropriate to comment on it further at this time."

Some SAG watchers have speculated that the new UFS executive board members will align themselves with New York and regional board members to create a new majority, shifting the stance of the union to a more moderate position. It remains to be seen, however, whether UFS has the willingness or wherewithal to build its own majority, which would mean enlisting nearly every New York and regional board member.

If the national board does agree to go to the members for strike authorization, it doesn't necessarily mean that the guild will do it immediately. SAG members could continue to work without a contract while leadership continued working to break the bargaining stalemate.

The advantage of that would be not risking a rejection by members, 75% of whom must OK the authorization. While a yes vote would give union bargainers added clout, a no would seriously undercut their position. (partialdiff)