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US actors' union finally reads from same script as studios

AFTER a year of nasty infighting, members of the Screen Actors Guild decided by a large margin that the show must go on.

The Guild said on Tuesday that 78 percent of voting members decided to ratify a two-year contract covering movies and prime-time TV shows made by the major Hollywood studios.

It was a show of unity after dragged-out negotiations left the Guild further behind than when it started talks in April last year. And it repudiated the strategy of replaced union leaders who had once called for a strike.

"At least for a period, I think what this vote represents is the membership's desire to move on," said David White, who was installed as the Guild's interim national executive director after a boardroom coup by moderates in January.

About 110,000 SAG members were sent ballots and more than 35 percent cast votes.

The new contract immediately raises actors' minimum pay by 3 percent and grants another 3.5 percent raise in the second year of the deal, which, along with better pension benefits and some Internet compensation, gives them US$105 million in overall gains, the union said.

But it is no better than a deal signed a year ago by a smaller actors union, AFTRA, nor did it improve upon the Internet terms that other unions already accepted. Negotiators that were replaced in January had sought more lucrative Web compensation.

SAG fought alone for better terms than were secured by writers, directors and AFTRA. The battle ended up hurting it as TV studios like ABC, NBC, Fox and CBS sent most of their new work AFTRA's way. SAG maintains exclusive jurisdiction over feature films.

The deal comes nearly a year after the last contract expired, meaning SAG actors lost out on the first year of proposed raises that the studios estimated totaled nearly US$80 million.

The new contract took effect after midnight and expires on June 30, 2011, about the same time as those of other unions, allowing SAG to maintain the future threat of a joint strike. That expiration date had been one of the final points of contention, but studio heads appeared to give in when faced with the prospect of a never-ending bargaining process in which SAG would be out of sync with other unions.

The past year's internal struggles came to a head in January when recently elected moderates moved to oust the Guild's national executive director, Doug Allen, and muzzle President Alan Rosenberg. Both had considered a strike vote a key negotiating tool but could never muster the support to send one out.

Many board members opposed the strike push as the economy dipped further into recession. Movie studios cut back on their film slates and laid off staff.


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