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SAG MEMBERS SET TO VOTE ON NEW PACT RATIFICATION: UNION IS EXPECTED TO RATIFY THE HOTLY CONTESTED DEAL.

Byline: Bob Strauss, Staff Writer

The final act has begun in the Screen Actors Guild's 13-month struggle to ratify a new contract.

Ballots will be mailed today to some 120,000 voters, seeking a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the two-year offer from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

"I'm very, very glad that the members are finally going to get a chance to weigh in on this deal," said Ned Vaughn, a leader of SAG's moderate Unite for Strength faction, which wrested control of the union's national board from the harder-line Membership First supporters late last year. "I'm also glad that we've come, I hope, to the end of the process here because it's high time that SAG members get back to work."

But others, such as former SAG president Edward Asner, view this particular solution as more of a doomsday scenario.

"If our members accept this contract, and they probably will, it will lead the middle-class actor into poverty," Asner said.

The tentative agreement was approved by 53 percent of the union's national board. Voting members must return their ballots by June 9.

Workers throughout the filmed entertainment industry - including members of the Writers Guild, Directors Guild and rival performers' union AFTRA, all of which agreed to similar contracts last year - hope SAG will vote yes, and with any luck ease a production slowdown attributed to uncertainty about an actors' strike.

But while SAG officially supports the new contract, many of the guild's elected officers, including president Alan Rosenberg, passionately oppose the deal.

Both pro and con statements regarding the contract were sent out with the ballots today.

Campaigning within the union has already begun. Moderates posted a "vote yes" video on the SAG Web site on Sunday, the same day opponents held a picnic rally in Griffith Park.

Perhaps the biggest bone of contention within SAG involves the contract's provisions regarding new media.

Proponents of the contract note that it establishes residuals from streaming Web sites such as Hulu for the first time, while opponents contend that it threatens crucial television residuals while failing to extend strong union jurisdiction over certain low-budget, made-for-new media productions.

With rapid technological changes and evolving business models governing electronic distribution of films and shows, the proposed contract includes a sideletter acknowledging that all new-media provisions will expire with the contract on June 30, 2011.

"I feel like a broken record when I talk about sunset clauses," said Scott Wilson, who's organized an assortment of protests and demonstrations against the proposed contract. "It's very apparent from previous negotiations that, once the template has been set, it isn't changed. That was the case with cable, that was the case with VHS, that was the case with DVD. (The AMPTP) has refused to go back and renegotiate any of those areas.

"Why would this time be any different? I mean, can you afford to believe them?"

But Vaughn from Unite for Strength countered that the sunset clause guarantees that new-media provisions will be renegotiated in 2011.

"Not only that, this deal gives us unprecedented transparency in terms of the money that our employers are actually making in new media," he said.

"We get to look at their books multiple times per year over the life of this contract."

bob.strauss@dailynews.com

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 19, 2009
Words:550
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