If my story on SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg didn’t make it clear, let me be frank: The Screen Actors Guild engenders a political malice in its leadership that could rival any competitor in Washington. The downside is that SAG lacks the political savvy that actually gets things done. Which is why is has taken almost a full year for SAG to negotiate a contract that will serve its 120,000 members into the age of new media—or at the very least, for the next three years.
SAG contracts expired last June and it has taken until now for there to appear any glimmer of resolution. But alas, the Hollywood trades are reporting that a closely split vote by SAG’s national board approved a contract that its hundred-thou plus membership will have to ratify.
Over the course of 2008, SAG was scheduled to negotiate eight separate contracts. By 2009, Hollywood’s largest union had resolved a grand total of zero. After an epic year in which SAG saw its leadership humiliated, its sister/“rival” union AFTRA alienated, and its pesky stars assume a mostly ineffectual role, the day of resolution may be near.
Will SAG live to see its happy ending?
The biz is breathing a little easier now that SAG is on the verge of finalizing a film and TV contract with the majors.
But the end of this tortuous yearlong negotiation process hardly means the end of strife within the Screen Actors Guild. The battles that raged internally and externally over the contract only heightened the intensity of the political and ideological conflicts that engulf SAG’s various factions.
The stage is thus set for more brawling in the next few months as campaigning for the guild’s fall election of officers—including a possible successor to Alan Rosenberg as national prexy—and board members gets under way. The campaigning is sure to turn on two polarizing issues that go to the heart of SAG’s biggest headaches: the prospect of a merger with rival thesp union AFTRA, and the question of implementing qualified voting on guild contracts.
The fall election will be an important barometer of how SAG’s 120,000 members feel about the state of their union. But the political infighting won’t be settled even if there’s a landslide victory by candidates aligned with the Unite for Strength faction, the moderates who have effectively opposed the Rosenberg-led Membership First wing since UFS won seven seats on the national board last fall. SAG’s Balkanization is too deeply rooted to be overcome in one election. This predicament has led some longtime SAG-watchers to conclude that the guild is in danger of becoming “ungovernable” in its current state.