Monday, December 15, 2008

SAG NY Furious

SAG leaders came under heavy fire at a New York membership meeting today attended by a standing-room only crowd of about 400 members. Members demanded that guild National Executive Director Doug Allen be fired, that President Alan Rosenberg resign, and, over and over, that the negotiating committee be replaced. The hostile crowd, though described as generally respectful, booed and hissed the two Allens on several occasions, according to one source (another disagreed). According to two attendees, Rosenberg turned pale and became so emotional at one point (after a personal remark was made to him) that he had to leave the room.

Virtually all of the audience members who spoke were against the strike authorization. In addition to middle-class actors, Alec Baldwin spoke: he passionately urged that the negotiating committee be replaced, a deal be done, and that there be no strike, in light of the economy. Another celeb who spoke, Joe Pantoliano, was described as leaning against a strike. Meryl Streep was also in attendance, but didn’t speak. Several past presidents of the NY division spoke, all urging that SAG accept the deal on the table or, at least, something similar.

Twice, members called for merger with AFTRA. This was met with applause both times. One attendee told me that Allen evaded questions and kept returning to talking points. Another said that one audience member accused Allen believing that “everybody is wrong but you [i.e., Allen himself].” Still another said that it was clear that New York members were unwilling to accept the SAG national leadership’s “party line,” and that the weekend letter by the New York board opposing the strike authorization accurately represented the feeling of New York members. Members repeatedly asked the Allens “Do you hear what we’re saying,” but were not convinced that they did.

The reception in New York couldn’t have been more different than in Los Angeles last week, where most members appeared in favor of the strike authorization, or an actual strike. Add to this the letters from the NY and Chicago boards and from the A-listers, all opposing a strike authorization and it’s clear that this is now a union in open civil war.

Meanwhile, only silence has been heard from the Hollywood moderates elected this past September, the Unite for Strength faction. They may have a strategy, but to me it looks like a mistaken one. The message that members get, unless they are involved enough to parse strategy to the nth degree, is that there’s no opposition among the Hollywood rank and file. A letter from the A-listers is not enough; it’s too easy to dismiss them as elites with no stake in contract negotiations. (I called UFS leader, Ned Vaughn, but had not heard back as the time I posted this article.)

Whether the leadership will get the 75% affirmative vote it needs to pass the strike authorization is unknowable, and some people are wondering if the authorization will go out at all. Still, there’s another member meeting scheduled in LA for Wednesday, and it will probably be another love fest of self-selected Hollywood attendees. Remember too that the SAG control group has lashed itself to a platform that essentially guarantees a strike, and has seemed committed to following that path no matter the cost to the membership. Thus, I think it likely that they’ll send out the authorization regardless of the opinions of NY, the regions, or the A-listers. Will it pass? Hard to tell.