Civil War Rages at SAG

Civil war within SAG raged on Tuesday over a lawsuit that will be filed by hardliners in the guild seeking to reinstate Doug Allen.

Additional reporting by Lauren Horwitch. 

The civil war at the Screen Actors Guild continued to rage on Tuesday.

SAG president Alan Rosenberg and his vice president Anne-Marie Johnson attempted to file a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, with the aim of blocking new talks with the studios and reinstating their ousted negotiator, Doug Allen.

But Superior Court Judge James Chalfant rejected the suit on technical grounds, and ordered Rosenberg and his supporters to refile the suit on Thursday.

The judge ordered Rosenberg to refile the complaint on Thursday. Rosenberg and other plaintiffs are seeking a temporary restraining order to block the ouster of negotiator Doug Allen and his replacement by David White. [Read the complaint.]

As a result, talks scheduled with the Hollywood producer companies have been suspended, and a seven-month stalemate slowing down production in the entertainment industry continues. 

White protested the action by Rosenberg in a letter to the membership, and wrote that when the complaint is refiled on Thursday, "The Guild will present a vigorous defense."

And the anti-Rosenberg went into high gear to express outrage that the president of the guild and the hardline faction Membership First would continue to embroil the organization in controversy.

 "This action is just one more irresponsible mis-step by the Hollywood Membership First faction," said New York’s Sam Freed, SAG 2nd National Vice President. "They are so desperate to hold onto their power that they are willing to burn
down their own house."

The meeting scheduled for Tuesday was to be the first face-to-face between the two sides since late November, when talks broke off after two days of federal mediation.

The main issue of contention for the guild has been division of future profits from distribution of movies and television shows over the Internet. The studios have resisted promising to share revenues off the Internet, which is as yet an unproven business proposition even as it becomes a dominant pillar in the distribution of entertainment. 

The studios gave up little in deals struck with other Hollywood unions last year, and have insisted they will not yield more on that front beyond  a $250 million deal that remains on the table. 

Since the ouster last week of his hand-picked national executive director Doug Allen, Rosenberg has loudly protested the move by a majority of his board as undemocratic. In an interview with TheWrap last week, he continued to defend his hand-picked lieutenant, even as he seemed resigned to the fact that he’d been stripped of power. 

Apparently that view changed over the weekend. While it’s still unclear for the legal basis of the lawsuit, Rosenberg and Johnson notified the guild on Monday of their intention to file the legal claim, which would also reinstate their negotiating committee.

The studios represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture andTelevision Producers had no official comment yesterday. But throughout the executive suites in Hollywood, there was unadulterated wonder at the continuing chaos at SAG. 

Of Rosenberg, one mogul said, “The band has played. The music has come up. The audience clapped – and he’s still there. It’s a sad thing.”

But Rosenberg’s supporters were not backing down either. Outside the guild all Monday afternoon, pro-Rosenberg protesters demanded to be heard, vilifying those actors – including Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Tom Hanks and George Clooney —  who have called for an end to the seven-month stalemate and urged that the guild take the studo’s offered deal.

“They say, ‘Take this deal.’ Why? So they can continue to make tens, twenties, and hundreds of millions of dollars while the rank and file is struggling to pay their bills” said Scott Wilson, a member of the ousted negotiating committee. “This group of selfish stars…. they came from the rank and file, they were not born stars…” He said, “They should not sit back and say, ‘I’m going to preclude someone from being me.’”

Wilson joined a dozen supporters of guild national president Alan Rosenberg outside SAG’s headquarters on Monday who marched with signs calling for the reinstatement of ousted negotiator Doug Allen. 

The protestors took aim at new SAG faction Unite for Strength, which used its slim majority of the national board to fire Allen by “written assent” last Monday and appointed former guild general counsel David White as interim negotiator and senior advisor John McGuire as chief negotiator. 

Typical of the heated language surrounding the SAG split, Wilson called the United For Strength faction a “junta.”

“It’s just stunning to me that a group of board members primarily from other parts of the country who don’t basically work these contracts that were collectively bargaining…. are telling us the deals that we should take when it doesn’t impact them in the least,” he said adding that the UFS members did not consult the other 47% of SAG’s national board before submitting the written assent.

Last week Allen, the former national executive director of SAG, was ousted from his position in a coup by disgruntled board members who were angry at his strategy of pursuing a strike authorization vote.

In addition to seeking the reinstatement of Allen, the action also apparently seeks to disband a new task force that is set to meet with the studios, and it asks that the installation of David White as the interim national executive director of SAG be set aside.

It is not yet clear on what basis the legal action was taken. Allen was removed in "letters of assent" signed by a majority of the SAG board.

Ironically, when Rosenberg and his Membership First gained control of the guild in  October 2005, one of his first acts was to fire then-CEO Greg Hessinger and three recently hired executives. Back then Rosenberg explained the move in a statement, “After much consideration and debate, the national board has decided to make a change in our staff leadership that will allow us to focus our resources more intensely in these areas."

So there was much speculation as to what basis Rosenberg and Johnson would use to claim the national board had not within its rights to fire Allen, a similar move. The union’s consitution seems to permit the move by the board; SAG’s consititution and bylaws states, “Except as provided otherwise in this Constitution, any acts shall be valid for all purposes with or without a meeting if approved by the written assent of a majority of the votes of the  Board of Directors, or may be required by this Constitution.”

The guild has been working without a contract since it expired at the end of July 2008.