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Vaughn Creates Opposition Slate for SAG Elections

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Backed by well-known performers and upset by the stalled contract negotiations with producers, actor Ned Vaughn has formed a new political party within SAG to try to unseat ruling faction Membership First in national board elections this fall.

Thirty-one actors from the new party, named Unite for Strength, will vie for Hollywood's 11 national board seats and 22 local seats, which will be contested in balloting during the first few weeks of September. Among the actors on the slate are Amy Brenneman and Kate Walsh (Private Practice), Dule Hill (Psych), Adam Arkin (Boston Legal, Chicago Hope), and Doug Savant (Desperate Housewives).

Currently, Membership First dominates the Hollywood Division, holding 32 of the 33 seats, and has a slight majority on the national board. It came to power in 2005 and has increased its ranks in each election since. As the majority, it has twice carried Alan Rosenberg to the national presidency, hired national executive director Doug Allen, and is the controlling voice on all negotiating committees, including one that is locked in a stalemate with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over a new TV/film contract. Vaughn and Unite for Strength are betting that Membership First's hardline posture, which appears to have isolated the guild from most of the industry, will deliver them to victory.

A full list of all the candidates won't be made public until Aug. 5. Variety reported Tuesday that Keith Carradine will run for the national board in Hollywood on the Membership First slate, indicating that the party is possibly dissatisfied with one or more of the current board members within its ranks.

As its name would indicate, Unite for Strength's central goal is to merge SAG with AFTRA, its sister union and longtime bargaining partner that has been a frequent target of Membership First. As a result of a years-long feud between the two groups, AFTRA suspended the unions' negotiating agreement, Phase One, in March and recently negotiated a new prime-time network television contract by itself for the first time in nearly 30 years. Unite for Strength also wants to heal the guild's internal rift--between Hollywood on one side and the the guild's New York and regional branches on the other.

“With the immense challenges actors face today, we need all the strength we can muster.  And that means electing union leadership that is committed to uniting actors to fight for our common future,” Vaughn stated in a news release. “We can no longer afford leaders who sow division.”

Vaughn, a consistently working if not well-known actor, came to prominence in February when he spearheaded a drive to limit the voting on contracts to members who have worked within the past six years.  Although he garnered some 1,500 signatures, the Membership First wing of the national board refused to consider the measure.

To change the dynamic on the national board toward a more AFTRA-friendly environment, Unite for Strength would have to unseat four or five incumbents in Hollywood, but that is more difficult than it seems. Membership First built its majority by taking a hard-line stand against anyone--especially fellow unionists--who would question the autonomy or uniqueness of the largest labor group in the entertainment industry. The faction is bitterly opposed to merger, and its members were among those who worked to defeat the last two attempts, in 1999 and 2003.

"Membership First is the only thing standing between SAG and a complete takeover of the Guild by AFTRA," Loren Lester wrote to Strike Watch in an email . "The actors calling themselves 'Unite for Strength' will be helping hand SAG over to AFTRA on a silver platter and should be prepared for a future without residuals."

Vaughn, however, believes the climate has changed significantly to carry Unite for Strength to power and, eventually, produce a merger.

"There is one critical element this time that we've never had before," Vaughn said in an interview with Strike Watch. "We have seen that all those things that were warned about five years ago when the last merger attempt failed. Those weren't Chicken Little ramblings. That was reality, and reality is coming home to roost right now."

In 2003, pro-merger forces said that the two unions, if they remained separate, would compete against each other in areas of shared jurisdiction, while the anti-merger contingent said that wouldn't happen. However, Membership First has since criticized AFTRA for undercutting SAG in basic cable.

SAG and AFTRA have negotiated many of their contracts jointly, under an agreement known as Phase One, since 1981. However, after a long-running feud came to a head in March, AFTRA suspended the agreement and negotiated a new TV deal separately. The contract was ratified by AFTRA's rank and file July 8 after SAG leadership waged a vocal, one-month campaign against it. Among other things, the guild said it didn't do enough to secure jurisdiction or comprehensive residual payments for work in new media.

SAG's own TV/Theatrical negotiations remain stalled. Producers gave what they called a final offer to the guild June 30. SAG's negotiating committee issued a counterproposal that producers have rejected. No new talks are scheduled.

--Andrew Salomon

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Comments

If this group of talented actors were truly interested in seeing SAG get the very best deal it can, their statement would have begun with full and unwavering support for the current elected leadership in our ongoing negotiations. As it is, their timing and their tone appear to be an effort to undermine current leadership, which doesn't help us get the best deal.

Mr. Vaughn, Mr. Arkin, Ms. Brenneman, and the rest of this group should draw a lesson from how Senator Obama is handling the Iraq situation vis a vis the party in power. The senator is just as quick to support the troops as he is to criticize the current commander-in-chief's policies. In fact, Obama has been in front of the current administration on a number of issues. A few months ago his opponents in both parties criticized him for stating that he would move on actionable intelligence about Al Queda activities in Pakistan if the Pakistanis could not. What's happened since? President Bush has done just that.

Supporting the troops in the context of SAG means expressing solidarity with your fellow actors in getting the best deal while at the same time explaining how you'd do things better next time. It also can mean being in front of the current leadership.

Mr. Vaughn, Mr. Arkin, Ms. Brenneman, the other 28 on this list - if you have suggestions for President Rosenberg as to how he may more successfully conclude the current negotiations with the AMPTP and not take a lousy rotten deal like AFTRA signed, I'm sure he's all ears. If you have ideas as to how to go about keeping AFTRA from poaching shows that should be SAG shows by offering the production companies sweetheart deals on wages, residuals, and working conditions at the expense of the actors, please share these ideas with all of us. We need your energy, your wisdom, your expertise.

But please, bring positive suggestions to move things forward to better protect actors. Simply lobbing brickbats at the current elected SAG leadership only helps the AMPTP.

Heister's delusional. No one with a brain supports the out of control crackpots who are in the process of running SAG into the ground. They're the same self-important fanatics who promised the world and delivered nothing, except for a war none of us wanted.

The Membership First morons have spent SAG into the ground, wasted opportunity after opportunity to strengthen the union and now are bashing people who've volunteered to step up and make things right.

The biggest difference between the Vaughn slate and the MeFirst maniacs is that the actors on Vaughn's slate have a record of actually doing the work. The MeFirst names never show up at board meetings, but let unknown and unstable alternates take over.

Look where they've gotten us.

An unconditional statement of support for the Allens? There aren't enough drugs in the world to cure that kind of sickness.

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