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Big shake-up in the Screen Actors Guild

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For weeks now the rumors have been flying about the ouster of the National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator of the Screen Actors Guild, Doug Allen. Despite all the denials, there was something in these rumors that suggested Allen’s days were numbered. And so it is, Allen is no longer working for SAG today, after being given his walking papers by the Guild’s National Board of Directors yesterday.

Before I go on, a reminder of the really bad timing of this action. SAG is in the middle of bitter contract negotiations with the big studios represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. SAG ‘s previous contract expired on June 30, 2008. The AMPTP made what it called “a final offer” in June and has refused to budge from it.

It appears Allen is being blamed for the lack of a new contract deal for the union’s 120,000 or so members. Allen’s battle with his critics in SAG really got ugly last month, when it was announced strike authorization ballots would be sent out to the membership asking for the right to call a walkout if the negotiating committee decided it was necessary.

Some of the most strident voices against the strike authorization vote were well-heeled actors with millions in the bank and cushy deals with the studios. These stars and celebrities have their own representatives to negotiate lucrative packages for them. They do not have to depend on the contract deal negotiated by the union to help pay their bills, unlike the majority of the working actors in SAG.

According to a statement posted on the SAG website, Allen is being replaced by two people. The SAG National Board picked “… former Guild general counsel David White to replace him as interim national executive director…. (and)… longtime Guild senior advisor John T. McGuire as chief negotiator.” Also, the board booted out the the TV/Theatrical Negotiating Committee and ordered it replaced with a task force more to the liking of the board of directors. All actions are effective immediately.

The new Interim National Director, David White, sent out an e-mail greeting to the union rank-and-file today asking all the members to work together, “… it is time to turn the page on the most destructive aspects of the Guild’s internal politics.” I think we all can agree with that.

Meanwhile, AMPTP representatives are probably dancing with glee over these new developments. The producers have proven themselves to be ruthless and skilled negotiators. Still, they just might go back to the bargaining table and sweeten their contract offer for SAG or continue to play hardball now that they know the union is afraid to even consider a strike. The way I see it, the AMPTP’s position just got stronger and SAG ‘s is now a whole lot weaker. I’m sure that is not the outcome the orchestrators of these sweeping changes in SAG were counting on.

Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood Daily website has a statement and an e-mail to the membership from the SAG National Board of Directors as well as a gracious farewell from Doug Allen.

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