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Actors union to vote on contract

THE largest US actors union mailed out ballots yesterday and key union leaders recommended that the union's 120,000 members approve a contract offer from Hollywood studios.

The tentative deal reached in April between the Screen Actors Guild and Hollywood studios averted the immediate threat of a strike that would have slowed movie and TV production.

But it also caused discord in the union, with moderates in key leadership posts calling the offer the best deal possible, and hardliners saying it will not pay actors enough for work delivered on new media, including the Internet and phones.

Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney who has monitored the contract talks, said that he expects the discord to continue during the voting process, which ends June 9.

"I think this is going to be hard-fought, because the hardline faction is really adamantly opposed to making a deal on any realistic terms," Handel said.

Industry experts say they expect union moderates to win the simple majority they need to approve the proposal, which would replace a contract that expired in June 2008.

The two-year proposed agreement between SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, contains an immediate 3 percent wage increase, followed by a 3.5 percent raise next year.

SAG produced a video with "St. Elsewhere" star Ed Begley Jr., "Chicago Hope" lead Adam Arkin and other actors urging members to approve the proposed agreement.

Absent from the video, available on the SAG Web site, are big-name Hollywood stars like Tom Hanks and Sally Field, who in December urged SAG members to oppose a possible strike, when hardliners were considering that route.

"I think the union is trying to show that this is a matter of the rank-and-file wanting to get back to work, it's not really about which stars might line up on which side of the issue," Handel said.


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