March 10, 2009 / 9:10 PM / 10 years ago

Hollywood actors split over vote on contract offer

LOS ANGELES, March 10 (Reuters) - Hollywood-based hardliners in the Screen Actors Guild are pressing to put the major studios’ latest contract offer to a vote by union rank and file in a move seen as possibly paving the way for a strike authorization.

SAG’s Hollywood board, dominated by militants of the Membership First faction, approved a resolution on Monday urging the more moderate national board to conduct a ratification vote despite their shared opposition to the proposed deal.

But Membership First’s plan calls for submitting the studios’ “final” offer to SAG’s members without a recommendation on whether they should endorse or reject it, according to media reports.

The hardliners presumably are counting on the proposed labor pact failing to win ratification, an outcome that would make a strike threat more credible and thus put more pressure on the studios to sweeten their offer.

The actors union and the studios have deadlocked for more than eight months over the terms of a new contract for SAG’s 120,000 members in film and prime-time television.

The chief stumbling block was disagreement over how actors should be paid for work on the Internet, seen as the main distribution pipeline for visual entertainment in the future.

Membership First, led by SAG President Alan Rosenberg, has been at odds over how to clinch the best deal with the more moderate wing, Unite For Strength, which holds a slim majority on the national board.

Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney who has monitored the contract talks and has ties to both studios and labor, said the Hollywood board’s action is another sign of how divided SAG has become.

“Clearly what the hardliners want is to try to take steps towards a strike authorization vote, and the more moderate leadership, the more moderate majority, is not looking to go that way at all,” he said.

Leaders among the Unite for Strength coalition and its allies have expressed reservation about sending the proposed deal out for a vote, since the union’s leadership opposes it.

The national board has no meeting scheduled.

SAG and the studios’ bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, reopened labor talks last month, but the negotiations broke down over the duration of the proposed contract.

The studios continued to press for a three-year deal while SAG sought an earlier expiration date that would align more closely with the contract cycle of other Hollywood unions, potentially giving them more collective leverage in future talks.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers declined to comment on Tuesday on Membership First’s push for a vote on the contract. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Steve Gorman and Mohammad Zargham)

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