January 26, 2009 / 7:29 AM / in 10 years

Internal strife deepens for Hollywood actors union

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Union moderates fighting for control of the deeply splintered Screen Actors Guild moved again on Monday to oust hard-line contract negotiators they blame for stalled labor talks with Hollywood’s major studios.

The move, which is likely to ratchet up tension within Hollywood’s biggest union, came in the form of a “written assent,” a seldom-used procedure that enables a majority of SAG’s national directors to take action outside the boardroom.

It came two weeks after SAG’s moderate faction, known as Unite For Strength, was thwarted by the union’s more militant leaders in a bid to remove executive director Doug Allen and the rest of his contract bargaining team during a contentious two-day board meeting.

The moderates accused Allen’s allies on SAG’s national governing board and SAG President Alan Rosenberg of resorting to “endless parliamentary games and improper behavior” to prevent an up-or-down vote during the January 12-13 session on a motion to oust the entire negotiating committee.

“This unprecedented level of obstruction has paralyzed the guild,” the moderates said in a letter to SAG members.

The written assent aims to fire Allen, and replace him as executive director with former SAG general counsel David White. Guild senior advisor John McGuire would be named to take Allen’s place as chief negotiator.

The rest of the negotiating panel would be dissolved and replaced by a “leaner” task force that would presumably be chosen by the board and would seek to complete contract talks.

SAG’s 120,000 members have been without a film and prime-time TV contract since their old labor pact expired June 30, after negotiations collapsed and studio presented their “final” offer for a new deal.

The two sides were most firmly at odds on how actors should be paid for work on the Internet, seen widely as the main distribution pipeline for visual entertainment in the future.

There was no immediate reaction from Allen or Rosenberg who has steadfastly supported his executive director.

But entertainment lawyer Jonathan Handel, a former co-counsel for the Writers Guild of America, predicted Rosenberg and his hard-line Membership First coalition would take legal action to challenge the written assent.

Internal division within SAG has gradually deepened since union moderates gained a slim majority on SAG’s 71-seat national board in September elections, accusing Rosenberg and Allen of mishandling labor talks.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Anthony Boadle

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