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Actors discuss potential SAG strike at Hollywood meeting
Jul 2, 2008, 04:11 PM | by Vanessa Juarez

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY LINK: (Full story below, plus more from J. Handel)

Categories: Movie Biz, Strike, TV Biz

The Screen Actors Guild and its smaller sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, have been trying to hammer out individual contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers for several weeks now. Unfortunately, the unions despise each other, which leaves working actors caught in the middle of a political cat fight. And that’s a tough predicament for many since, well, most Hollywood actors aren’t Will Smith. Consider this: According to a Los Angeles Times analysis, 72.1 percent of actors make less than $5,000 per year, and less than 2 percent of them make enough to own a Bentley.

While SAG and AFTRA duke it out, many actors have been trying to make sense of the current situation. So on July 1, TroyGould attorney and former WGA counsel Jonathan Handel met with about 35 actors at the Actors’ Network headquarters in Studio City, Calif., to help them help them sort out union facts from spin — which is especially important to those who are members of both unions. Instead of focusing on its own negotiations, SAG has been trying to persuade dual cardholders to vote against AFTRA’s tentative agreement. The results of that vote, which are due July 8, will likely influence what SAG does next: get back to the negotiating table or ask its members for strike authorization.

During Handel’s run-through, most actors took notes on a slew of topics. More on those and a deeper look at the sample of actors in attendance, after the jump.

Handel discussed many subjects in his talk. SAG’s leadership. How the union’s hard line may have led to the present circumstances. How the producers were able to play SAG and AFTRA against each other as a result. Why the WGA made a good deal, but not a great one (it achieved gains on new media, but not big gains). Why a merger of both unions would be beneficial to actors (more manpower, for starters). The areas that SAG and producers need to realistically compromise on. Why it might be difficult for SAG to strike (they need a strike authorization vote of 75 percent), even though only a small percentage of the union would be truly hurt by one (about 90 percent of SAG members aren’t actively working). And how SAG doesn’t have a hard deadline to hold over producers’ heads the way the writers did with the Oscars.

While the actors at the meeting learned about the current situation, EW.com learned more about them and some of the circumstances they are facing. At least five of them said there have been years in which they could not meet the threshold for their health care and pension plans, because the unions operate separately. About 10 actors said they have received robo-calls from stars on behalf of each guild, appealing to them to vote for or against the AFTRA contract. When Handel asked actors whether any of them had recently auditioned for a studio movie job, not one person raised his or her hand. This is a sign that studios are not putting projects into production for fear that they would be interrupted by a SAG strike (a situation Handel characterized as a de-facto lockout). About six actors did say they had recently auditioned for an independent film (most indie producers received waivers from SAG to continue production whether there is a strike or not). And no matter what happens next with the AFTRA contract, none of the actors felt that the additional gains SAG is pressing for would be worth striking over, at least during this negotiations cycle.

By no means were the actors passive; several, in fact, stood up to voice their concerns and opinions. “It’s not that we’re wimpy” for thinking a strike “is unjustified,” one insisted.

Said Kevin E. West, founder and president of the Actors’ Network: “If all we’re going to do every three years is pretty much get 2.5 or 3 percent [on minimum pay], which is the basic rate of inflation, you could almost [phone] this in. It’s just like standard stuff that we go through all of these fights every three years, and quite frankly, nothing since the time I moved to California has really changed. We get our 2.5 [percent], threaten a strike, and here we go again. I don’t get why our unions aren’t discussing [a possible merger], as opposed to barking over the same cross-jurisdictional stuff we’ve been arguing over for 20 years.”

Actor Phil Kaufman, who is a member of The Actors’ Network, SAG, AFTRA, and the stage union Actors’ Equity, added: “About six months ago, I was the most pro-strike guy. Before the writers’ strike, I thought the writers’ strike was a just cause, I stood by it. The current SAG leadership has shown that they are not leadership capable of taking us into a strike. They’ve made strategic and tactical errors along the way that even if I thought it was a good idea on paper, this isn’t the gang to do it, and this isn’t the time to do it. That ship has sailed. So I think that reflects a lot of people I know, and others who have been on one side of things and have felt like whatever the justice of the cause, sadly, it’s analogous to the Iraq war. Whatever you think about how we got into it, we’re mired and there’s not way out but a series of lousy choices.”

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