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SAG Rallies Troops Ahead of Strike Vote

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LOS ANGELES The Screen Actors Guild's "educational campaign" toward strike authorization began Wednesday with a pre-Thanksgiving e-mail to its members.

The seven-page message was the first of many expected from the actors union leading up to a strike-authorization vote slated for December.

"We need to show management that we are willing to fight to preserve our ability to earn a living as union performers; otherwise, management will take that away from us," SAG said. "Nearly half of our earnings as union performers come from residuals, but management wants us to allow them to make programs for the Internet and other new media nonunion [productions] and with no residuals."

On Saturday, a federal mediator broke off a two-day, 27-hour discussion between SAG and the studios bargaining arm, the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. The decision to end the mediation process resulted in SAG going forward with its decision to take a strike-authorization vote from members.

In a separate message to members Wednesday, SAG president Alan Rosenberg said pursuant to a resolution passed by the national board in October, SAG is launching its "member education campaign" and will send out strike referendum ballots to all members in December.

"Your leadership believes that we must be empowered with the real threat of a work stoppage in order to let management know that we are committed to protecting the future of all actors," Rosenberg said.

The AMPTP has called SAG tone deaf and its actions bizarre. In a statement Wednesday, the group continued to questions SAG's decision-making.

"SAG's latest mass e-mail fails on three counts: It fails to explain why SAG deserves more than everyone else in the industry," the AMPTP said. "It fails to justify why SAG members should bail out a failed negotiating strategy by striking during a time of historic economic crisis. And it fails to explain why it makes sense to strike when SAG members will lose more during the first few days of the strike than they could ever expect to gain."

But Rosenberg said actors have different issues than other industry workers.

"Management continues to apply its one-size-fits-all demands to SAG actors," he said. "And we continue to stress that actors have unique, reasonable needs that are different, not better, but different than writers, directors and crew members."

SAG also continued to insist that a strike-authorization vote does not mean the union will go on strike.

"A strike authorization is a tool that gives us more leverage in negotiations and we intend to use it to try to get a fair deal," SAG said. "If we receive 'yes' votes from at least 75 percent of the members who vote on this referendum, the national board will have the ability to call a strike, but it must vote to do that, and that won't happen before we attempt further negotiations to reach a deal with management."

The AMPTP has been clear that it won't change its offer regardless of a strike authorization or strike vote.

The AMPTP made its final offer to SAG on June 30. While the offer gave SAG expanded jurisdiction over new-media productions, the union said the deal doesn't cover all productions, allowing for nonunion work to continue unchecked.

The AMPTP maintains its offer is fair and said it needs a nonunion threshold to allow for experimental new media productions. But SAG says its counterproposal terms would allow "management the latitude to experiment using union actors."

SAG pointed to the 1986 deal the AMPTP made for home video, a formula that has not changed in its 22 years.

"Right now, all the actors on a given cast share 1 percent of the revenue generated through DVD sales because of a formula we agreed to in 1986 when management needed to 'experiment' with home video," SAG said. "In this negotiation, we have asked only that management at least make pension and health contributions on DVD residuals, rather than making us pay them ourselves out of our paltry 1 percent. They have refused even that."

"At least until now, we have kept the offer on the table despite the precipitous economic decline of the last several months," the AMPTP told its members last week. "Whether we will be able to continue to do so in the face of the economic downturn remains to be seen."

SAG, however, said "the bad economy means that it will require more of a sacrifice from some of our members if in fact a strike becomes necessary."