The trade union representing most of the actors in North America will hold a members-only town hall meeting Monday night to give their leaders a chance to explain their thinking as they begin an uphill climb to secure a strike authorization vote.
The meeting comes as the Screen Actors Guild's leaders gird for a possible strike early next year against the major studios represented by the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
"This town hall meeting will give Hollywood members an update on the negotiations and a chance to ask questions about the upcoming strike authorization ballot referendum," the union has told its members.
In addition to Monday's meeting with actors, SAG leaders plan to meet two days later with the stars' personal publicists and managers. Those influential cogs in the wheel will likely take a large financial hit if their employers walk out, industry officials have said.
In a mailing first reported by Hollywood columnist Nikke Finke, the 122,000-member SAG leadership has told its members that "a strike authorization vote from SAG members would show the AMPTP that the unique needs of actors cannot be addressed by a pattern of bargaining."
The mailing was SAG's response to last weekend's full-page AMPTP advertisement, in which the bosses at eight major studios accused the actors of demanding more than the half-dozen other trade unions with which producers have reached labor agreements this year.
Last weekend, the eight studio presidents accused SAG of "demanding that the entire industry literally throw out all its hard work because it believes it deserves more than the 230,000 other working people in the industry," the statement said.
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Industry executives said SAG members have already lost more than $35 million by working under the expired contract rather than accepting the $250 million in enhancements the producers have offered them.
Although schedules for voting and deadlines have yet to be released, industry observers expect SAG to conduct a vote-by-mail on a strike authorization over the last week of December, then try to reach a deal with AMPTP one last time, in January.
That means a strike is possible in February, in time to disrupt the Feb. 22 Academy Awards telecast by stringing picket lines down Hollywood Boulevard. A number of prominent actors have come down on both sides of the issue, with several arguing against a strike.
"We do not believe in all good conscience now is the time to be putting people out of work," actress Rhea Perlman and her husband, actor Danny DeVito, wrote in a recent letter to SAG directors, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The letter illustrated the challenge likely to confront SAG leaders who seek to take actors into a work stoppage.
"...I think getting the strike authorization will be a tall order given the economic crisis. That will be on many actors' minds," David Smith, a labor economist at Pepperdine University, told The Times.
Some economists have estimated that the year-ago Writers Guild of America strike, which lasted 100 days, cost the Los Angeles regional economy $2 billion.