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Stars back dissident slate for SAG board

Times Staff Writer

The fight for control of the Screen Actors Guild took a dramatic turn Wednesday with Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin and Sally Field joining other high-profile actors in endorsing a group of dissidents to lead Hollywood’s largest union.

The group, known as Unite for Strength, said that more than 35 well-known actors have backed its slate of candidates for 11 Hollywood division seats on the 71-member national board. The slate also includes candidates running for 22 seats as alternate board members.

The challengers are taking on Membership First, the Hollywood faction that holds a slight majority on the national board. The challengers contend that the majority has mishandled current contract negotiations with studios by waging a misguided campaign to discredit the smaller actors union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

AFTRA recently reached agreement on a new three-year contract with the studios that was modeled on deals negotiated by writers and directors, but criticized by SAG leaders as bad for actors.

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In an e-mail to 38,000 Hollywood SAG members, Field, who has won two Oscars and currently stars in the TV series “Brothers & Sisters,” urged her colleagues to support the dissidents “to end the senseless war with AFTRA and start building a united front of actors to fight for more working opportunities and better pay.”

Other backers include Sarah Michelle Gellar, Tony Shalhoub, Gary Sinise, Ed Begley Jr. and Patricia Heaton. The “fighting within our union is weakening us at the bargaining table,” said Heaton, star of TV’s “Everybody Loves Raymond.” “We obviously need to chart a new course.”

The Sept. 18 election could be pivotal in determining whether, and how soon, the stalemate with the studios ends. Actors have been working without a contract since June 30, and the sides remain far apart on how actors should be paid for shows created for the Internet.

Membership First has lined up its share of high-profile backers and candidates, including Joely Fisher, Keith Carradine and Scott Bakula.

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richard.verrier@latimes.com


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