Members of the Screen Actors Guild have overwhelmingly given their union leaders authorization to call a strike in negotiations over pay with producers of such basic cable TV programs as "The Closer," "The Shield" and "Nip/Tuck."
Although strike authorizations are not unusual, and often are granted to give negotiators more leverage, the move shows that talks have become increasingly tense in recent weeks.
A strike could be called only by the union's national board or national executive committee, and would affect about 20 basic cable shows. Bargaining is expected to resume today.
SAG would not comment specifically on the results of the authorization vote, citing a news blackout.
"We will continue to fight for a fair contract," SAG President Alan Rosenberg said. "And, as is always the case, we hope to avoid any work interruption in pursuit of that equitable deal."
J. Nicholas Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, declined to comment. Last week, Counter blasted the strike authorization request, saying SAG officials had mischaracterized a fair offer by producers to give actors a bigger share of profits.
SAG, however, contends that the offer falls short, given the dramatic growth in the cable industry over the last decade. Rosenberg and other union leaders have vowed to take a tough stance in negotiations to correct what they argue are inequities built up over time.
Under their current basic cable agreement, actors are paid 12% of the minimum pay for the first rerun, down to 1% for the 13th and later reruns.
Producers have offered to pay 17% for the first rerun, down to 1.5%, matching the residual pay formula used by the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America.
Specific voting results weren't released because of the news blackout.
But a source close to the union said more than 90% of those who voted supported the strike authorization. The vote was open to the union's 120,000 members in caucuses that were held last week in Hollywood, San Francisco, New York, Miami and Chicago.
SAG last struck in 2000, when actors walked out against advertisers over pay for commercials.