Screen Actors Guild sets strike vote on Jan. 2

LOS ANGELES (AP) - December 10, 2008 Votes will be counted on Jan. 23, nearly two weeks after the Golden Globe Awards ceremony, but ahead of the Feb. 22 Academy Awards, the most important date on the Hollywood calendar.

Approval by 75 percent of voting members is required to pass the measure. If it is approved, the SAG national board can call a strike.

Guild President Alan Rosenberg has said a strike is the last resort to force a resolution in stalled contract talks with major movie studios, but that if it is necessary, it would be timed to have the most impact.

"SAG members understand that their futures as professional actors are at stake," Rosenberg said in a statement Wednesday.

The guild is at odds with the studios over the treatment of Internet productions and the benefits that actors can get when earthquakes or other unforeseen events, such as a strike by another union, shut down productions.

For instance, actors have an outstanding claim for payments they say they are due for work lost during the 100-day strike by writers last season. That strike reduced the Golden Globes this past January to a glorified press conference.

In the Internet debate, the guild wants union coverage of all shows made for the Web, regardless of budget, and residual payments for actors on made-for-Internet shows that are reused online. Currently, almost all provisions for made-for-Internet productions are negotiable or at the producer's discretion.

Major studios called the strike vote poorly timed.

"It's now official: SAG members are going to be asked to bail out a failed negotiating strategy by going on strike during one of the worst economic crises in history," said a statement by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

That group represents studios such as Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures and Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. The alliance has stuck to what it called its final offer made when the previous contract expired June 30.

Similar deals have already been accepted by other unions, including those representing directors, writers, stagehands and a smaller actors union. On its Web site, the movie and TV producers' group says the Screen Actors Guild has so far foregone more than $37 million in pay increases by continuing to work under the terms of the old deal.

On Monday, the guild held a closed-door town hall-style meeting at the Harmony Gold Theater in Hollywood, and Rosenberg said he was "encouraged by the response" by the 500 members in attendance.

But the guild, which had expected to send out ballots this month, pushed back the strike vote date after the producers' alliance accused it of using the holidays to ensure a low turnout and leave more working actors out of the process.

"We want SAG members to have time to focus on this critical referendum," Rosenberg said.

The guild plans another town hall meeting in New York on Monday and one in Hollywood on Dec. 17. As well, the guild is sending out e-mails and fact sheets to members, and will put up testimonials from prominent actors such as Hal Holbrook and Ed Asner on its Web site to urge actors to vote yes.

But actors are divided. In guild elections in September, an upstart group called Unite For Strength broke up the majority control of the national board that had been held by a faction that supports Rosenberg.

However, the Unite group has not clarified its position on the strike vote.

Last week, at a benefit performance at the University of California, Los Angeles, "Mad Men" actor Jon Hamm told The Associated Press that he hoped the labor strife would not affect next year's TV season.

"I wish it was not happening. I wish there were sound heads on both sides who were able to discuss this like adults," he said. "If history is any judge, it's not looking good, but we'll see, especially given the financial climate."

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