LOS ANGELES More than 130 Hollywood stars including Oscar winners George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Charlize Theron, Morgan Freeman and Sally Field, joined on Monday in opposing a strike authorization vote by the Screen Actors Guild.
The A-list performers registered their opposition in a letter that circulated on the Internet as union leaders, including SAG President Alan Rosenberg, met in New York City with rank-and-file members to seek support for a strike authorization.
The letter marked the latest sign of sharp divisions within the 120,000-member union over tactics employed by Rosenberg and his allies to squeeze a better contract offer from major studios, especially for pay from work put on the Internet.
A smaller group of stars including Mel Gibson and Martin Sheen on Friday voiced support for a strike vote, while board members from SAG's New York division came out against it.
After months of deadlock, the union renewed Hollywood labor jitters last week by announcing plans to conduct a strike authorization vote in January, hoping to force studio executives back to the bargaining table.
The ballots are slated to be mailed on January 2 and tallied on January 23. A "yes" vote from 75 percent of those who return ballots is required to give SAG's governing board permission to call a strike at its discretion.
While Rosenberg has insisted that a "yes" vote is intended to gain leverage in contract talks and would not automatically launch a strike, opponents say the vote is misguided.
"We feel very strongly that SAG members should not vote to authorize a strike at this time," Monday's letter stated. "We don't think that an authorization can be looked at as merely a bargaining tool. It must be looked at as what it is -- an agreement to strike if negotiations fail."
Citing worsening economic conditions, the letter urged SAG leaders to accept as "an imperfect agreement" the studios' latest contract proposal and to join with other Hollywood unions three years from now in pressing for better terms then.
The industry is still recovering from a 14-week strike by screenwriters that ended in February, after idling thousands of production workers and costing the local economy an estimated $3 billion.
The letter, addressed to SAG board members, officers and staff, was signed by 134 prominent film and television actors, including numerous Oscar winners and nominees.
On Friday, the governing board of SAG's New York branch also issued a statement urging the union's national leadership to call off its strike authorization vote, saying widespread layoffs and cutbacks had altered the labor landscape.
Rosenberg accused the New York board members of undermining SAG's position. The union separately announced a "solidarity campaign" in favor of a strike authorization vote and listed 30 actors who supported it, including Mel Gibson, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter and Martin Sheen.
But Monday's letter from more than 130 A-listers seemed to put more star clout behind strike vote opponents.
"The stars are very influential in SAG, but it's also the case that stars are not affected directly by the SAG contract because stars have their own contracts that give them more money and better terms," said entertainment lawyer Jonathan Handel, who has ties to Hollywood labor and management.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)