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Hollywood Drama: SAG To Vote On Actor's Strike

Screen Actors Guild
Screen Actors Guild

The idea of a guild striking in this economic environment seems odd, to say the least. Doesn't everyone have more to lose? In Hollywood, after months of a standoff, an actors' strike seems more possible than ever.

The Screen Actors Guild's 120,000 members are going to vote on whether or not they authorize a strike. The guild's leadership decided to make this dramatic move after a federal mediator failed to make any progress between the actors guild and the producers' association. The two sides have been at an impasse since the actors' contract expired June 30th. The heart of the conflict is how actors should be compensated for digital distribution of their work.

This is a crucial time for the entertainment industry: it's struggling to adapt to digital distribution, while losing ad revenue due to the weak economy. And Hollywood is still feeling the effects of the Writers' Guild strike which ended early this year, shaking up pilot season and shifting production costs. And right now Hollywood dealmakers are deciding which big movies to "greenlight" for 2010 and getting ready for the Academy Awards. Production plans for 2010 blockbusters and the big awards season could both be squashed by a strike, not to mention how crippling it would be for the industry at a time when viewers already have plenty of alternatives.

What now? The Screen Actors guild will send out information to its members, explaining that a strike authorization vote is not a vote for a strike, but a vote to authorize one, which the guild argues is a crucial negotiating too. Once SAG sends out strike authorization ballots, they're due back 30 days later. The union needs a yes vote from 75 percent of those voting—not of 75 percent of the entire membership.

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Over half of SAG's members don't work in any given year, so you'd think non-working actors would be more willing to authorize a strike. But many of those who can't get jobs as actors are working as waiters or even assistants on sets, jobs that would be hurt terribly by a strike. The guild would likely want to use the awards show as a negotiating play; threatening to effectively shut down the Golden Globes the way the WGA strike did last year, and threatening to do the same to the Oscars.

I find it hard to imagine any other labor disruptions in Hollywood at this point, but who knows. This stalemate has continued for long enough, that all bets are off.

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.