SAG Board Ousts Embattled Negotiator Doug Allen

Former Guild General Counsel David White To Serve As Interim National Executive Director

LOS ANGELES (AP) , January 27, 2009, Ryan Nakashima, Business Writer — The board of the Screen Actors Guild on Monday ousted the guild’s chief negotiator and national executive director, Doug Allen.
    Allen, who had strongly backed a strike vote until recent attempts to fire him, notified the guild executive staff in an e-mail Monday that “the national board has terminated my employment” and wished the guild well.
    The move makes the prospects of an actors’ strike extremely remote and will likely hasten an agreement with studios on a movie and prime-time TV contract that expired last June. Actors have been working since then under the terms of the expired deal.
    “The threat-o-meter has gone way down,” said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer who has followed the labor strife closely. “There’s still work to be done, but this is the dawn of a new era for SAG.”
    The move to oust Allen follows months of turmoil at the guild over whether to hold a strike vote, and a contentious meeting two weeks ago when a group representing the majority on the board tried to fire Allen but failed because of filibustering by other members.
    Anne-Marie Johnson, the guild’s first vice president, said board members making up 52.5 percent of the voting rights on the 71-member board signed a document making the move. Guild lawyers authenticated the document, she said.
    It was an unusual procedure but not surprising in the wake of the last full board meeting, in which members of a hardline Hollywood group known as Membership First, led by President Alan Rosenberg, delayed a vote on Allen’s ouster in a 28-hour marathon session using procedural delays.
    It also followed a glitzy evening at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where collegiality replaced public bickering between high-profile actors on both sides of the dispute.
    Allen, a former NFL linebacker and NFL Players Association assistant executive director, will be replaced by former guild general counsel David White as interim national executive director, the group said. Veteran guild staffer John McGuire will take over as lead negotiator, with a smaller negotiating team supporting him.
    White is expected to start work as early as Tuesday and move quickly to reopen talks with the studios.
    The studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, declined to comment.
    Johnson said Allen will be paid his full $500,000 annual salary for the year remaining in his three-year contract. He joined the guild in January 2007.
    Late last year, as talks with major Hollywood studios ground to a halt, the guild maintained the studios’ final offer was unacceptable because it failed to guarantee guild coverage in productions made for the Internet, failed to make residual payments on made-for-Internet content that is rerun online, and didn’t protect actor benefits in unforeseen work stoppages.
    But support for a strike vote waned quickly as the economy soured. High-profile actors lobbied on both sides of the issue, fraying efforts at building a consensus within the 120,000-member union.
    SAG is the last holdout among several unions that have agreed to a new long-term contract with the studios, including directors, a smaller actors union, and writers, whose 100-day strike last year helped forge template terms in new media that other unions later accepted.
    The studios have said their final offer added $250 million in additional payments for actors, but that SAG had foregone $48 million in increases by not accepting the deal by mid-August.