SAG's strike punt sure to extend game


SAG's national board played hot potato with the strike authorization question Sunday, effectively assuring Hollywood's labor pains won't go away anytime soon.

Close to three weeks after the guild's bargaining committee sent the issue to the national board, that body Sunday deferred a decision and put the question back in the hands of its negotiators.

A vote to let the guild's 120,000 members — who have been working under an expired contract for four months — decide on giving its leadership the go-ahead to call a walkout could have been a game-changer. A yes vote from 75% of those voting would have given SAG negotiators a stick they have lacked; a no vote, however, would have been a signal that membership had tired of the fight.

On Sunday, SAG's board instead voted to officially request that a federal mediator be called in to help break the stalemate between the actors union and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers on their TV/ theatrical contract talks. The studios broke off talks when they made what they termed a final offer on June 30.

"We hope mediation will move this process forward," SAG president Alan Rosenberg said. "Economic times are tough for all Americans, but we must take a stand for what is fair," he added.

Also on Sunday, while not addressing directly the idea of bringing in a federal mediator, the AMPTP sent a strong signal that its position had not changed.

"No matter what SAG does — whether it be authorizing a strike or following a different approach — it will not change the harsh reality that currently confronts our industry," it said.

The process of involving a mediator, which would require SAG's petitioning the federal government and getting a formal response from the AMPTP, will likely take weeks. In the resolution passed Sunday, SAG's board said that the bargaining committee would consider sending a strike authorization vote to the membership only after mediation failed.

SAG's negotiating committee has for months had the ability to ask members for strike authorization. Instead, on Oct. 1, the committee voted to allow the 71-member national board decide whether to ask SAG members to give the guild the go-ahead to call a strike. Panel members said the move was out of respect for the new makeup of its national board as a result of its recent election.

Rosenberg and SAG national executive director and chief negotiator Doug Allen see the strike authorization as a bargaining tool to get the AMPTP back to the bargaining table.

The weekend's meetings were the first for SAG's board since a contentious election that saw SAG's negotiating committee chair, David Jolliffe, a member of the union's MembershipFirst faction, voted off the board and several new members of the Unite for Strength group voted in. Joliffe continues to serve on the negotiating panel.

Although UFS members, including Amy Brenneman and Ken Howard, did not take over the majority of the Hollywood divisions or national board, their presence loosened the grip of the MembershipFirst faction — seen as the more militant arm of the guild — on the union's decision-making. (partialdiff)