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SAG to AFTRA: We Can Work It Out

Strikewatch_blog SAG leaders were busy this week end either rallying the troops for tomorrow's contract negotiations or digging themselves a deeper hole of internal politics -- depending on your point of view.

Rosenberg and Co. emerged from a national board plenary with a plea to AFTRA to drop this whole "abandoning Phase One" thing. In a  statement sent Sunday evening, SAG said the board decided "that AFTRA be given the opportunity to join Screen Actors Guild in Phase I joint negotiations, provided that notice of acceptance is received within 72 hours.... This action has been communicated to AFTRA."

No official word from AFTRA yet, but because the statement didn't include any wavering on bloc voting or mention of basic-cable talks, I'm guessing AFTRA's response will be "thanks, but no thanks." SAG isn't giving AFTRA a reason to engage in Phase One, so I'm stumped as to why AFTRA's board would change their collective mind.

Meanwhile, SAG's Hollywood-dominated national board may have made a few enemies among guild members -- 1,500 to be exact. The board voted to sideline a controversial proposal that would limit voting on major contracts to only actors who regularly work under those contracts -- a practice commonly known as "qualified voting." About 60 percent of SAG's board voted to send the proposal to a review committee, which means the issue won't have any impact on the imminent negotiations with the AMPTP.

Ned_vaughn Back in February, the proposal's author Ned Vaughn, told Back Stage the measure was not intended as a slap in the face to the thousands of actors who earn less than $1,000 per year by working under SAG contracts.

"This is not a grievance of the working members against those who happen not to be working," Vaughn said. "There are top stars on our supporters' list, but there are also plenty of people who are struggling actors who have noted in their messages to us that they themselves might be excluded from voting on certain contracts -- but that they understand that this is critical to strengthening SAG so that it can obtain the best contracts for all of its members."

We subsequently heard from a few actors who disagreed with Vaughn, like Robert Schuch a 25-year SAG member. He had an interesting proposal of his own for Vaughn:

"When every actor making more than $50,000 on a film or television project promises to donate 1 percent of their pay to the lower-paid actors on their project, I will give up my vote, and I am sure a lot of actors would also....But that is not going to happen, Mr. Vaughn, and you want to give my vote to those actors? I vote for the future of this union, which should be the strongest union, and not for what benefits me in the short run."

Actors giving a percentage of their income to less-fortunate actors? Why, that's almost as likely as AFTRA re-entering Phase One.

Vaughn's vowed to fight on, though. He told Variety, "We will obviously get reaction from the 1500+ members who strongly support the proposal, and decide how to proceed based on the response. This much is certain: the effort to give working actors an effective voice in contract decisions will not go away."

Of course, SAG issues almost always come down to internal politics: the Hollywood board (dominated by Membership First) vs. the New York board (dominated by USAN). SAGWatchdog blogger Arlin Miller -- who is firmly against Vaughn's proposal -- points out NY board members including 3rd vp and NY president Sam Freed and former NY presidents Paul Christie and Sue-Anne Morrow have signed the petition for qualified voting. Morgan Fairchild -- who ran against Rosenberg for SAG presidency in '05 -- is the lone Hollywood Board member to sign it.   

I can understand that SAG's national board had to squash the qualified voting issue before the AMPTP talks, but is now really the time to bring up more divisive issues within the guild? What do you think?

--Lauren Horwitch

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