Actors union close to booting chief negotiator
Board members of Hollywood’s biggest union moved closer Monday night to ousting the guild’s chief negotiator in a revolt against his handling of contract talks with the studios and impatience over bargaining strategy in the face of a worsening economy.
A coalition of Screen Actors Guild board members introduced a resolution calling for Doug Allen, the guild’s executive director and chief negotiator, to be fired. The move was the latest sign of turmoil in a union that has a history of internal strife and warring among its members.
The dissidents, largely so-called moderate board members, contend that the former NFL Players Assn. official has mishandled negotiations and deepened divisions inside the 120,000-member union that have weakened SAG’s clout at the bargaining table.
In their resolution, moderates also called for disbanding the union’s negotiating committee and replacing it with a group that would seek to restart contract talks with the studios. Actors have been working without a contract for six months.
But even though the moderates hold a slight majority on the board, they were unable to put the measure to a vote because of a series of what critics described as parliamentary maneuvers orchestrated by Allen’s backers. Board members aligned with the leadership spoke for several hours discussing arcane rules of procedure and chastised dissidents for being disloyal to their union. SAG President Alan Rosenberg blasted some of the union’s critics, according to people familiar with the meeting.
Critics said the apparent filibuster was aimed at “running out the clock” to block a vote before the meeting ends this afternoon in the hopes of keeping Allen in his job and allowing the union to proceed with its strike referendum.
The open display of boardroom dissent, however, would make it even more difficult for SAG to get the strike authorization passed. For that to happen, the proposal requires approval from 75% of the members who vote, a tall order in the current economic climate.
Allen and Rosenberg were not available for comment.
Allen, who has a year remaining on his $500,000-a-year contract, is not expected to leave without a fight. Among the possible candidates to replace him is John McGuire, a veteran labor negotiator and currently senior advisor to the guild.
Allen and Rosenberg have argued that they need a strike authorization vote from members to give them leverage in negotiations with the studios. The guild is sharply at odds with the producers over how actors should be compensated in the digital era.
The union was originally set to mail out strike authorization ballots Jan. 2, but the vote was delayed after heavy protest from New York board members, who complained that the strike referendum was ill-timed because of the deep recession. They received key support from more than 130 high-profile actors including George Clooney and Tom Hanks. Other well-known actors, however, among them Martin Sheen, Mel Gibson and Edward Asner, have strongly backed the referendum.