What happens when Hollywood throws a strike rally and hardly anyone comes? Nothing good for the biggest actors' union, which is trying to negotiate a new deal.
Usually it's impossible to keep actors away from a good photo opportunity. But a boisterous rally held outside the Screen Actors Guild headquarters in Los Angeles on June 9 wasn't exactly brimming with stars ready to mug for the cameras. More than 300 people had gathered to urge members of the second-biggest actors' union, AFTRA, to reject a deal that its leaders made with TV and movie studios last month. (The pact increases the actors' salaries and gives them residuals for Internet downloads.) The reason they're so fervent? The ralliers are part of SAG, the largest actors' union in Hollywood, which is trying to hammer out its own agreement without much luck. SAG's honchos fear that AFTRA's deal, if ratified, will thwart its own efforts to get something even better. Problem is, there's a huge rift between the leaders and the members, and the lack of A-list stars was a telltale sign that any hopes of a united front are crumbling fast. The biggest names on hand were Ed Asner and CSI star Marg Helgenberger, wife of SAG president Alan Rosenberg. That irony wasn't lost on Kate Flannery, a.k.a. The Office's boozy Meredith, who showed up to lend her support. ''I wish the high-profile people would show up in droves,'' she said. ''We need them. Their voices are a lot louder than mine.''
But they didn't. Perhaps the memory of the brutal writers' strike, which cost Hollywood $2.5 billion, makes them leery of advocating another shutdown. It's likely that AFTRA members will approve the deal, ensuring that production on shows like 'Til Death and Rules of Engagement (oh, joy!) won't be delayed. And as a result of AFTRA's willingness to bargain not to mention this poorly attended rally SAG has lost considerable leverage. There's still time to hash things out with conglomerates, but SAG is going to have to move quickly. ''We'll have to do it in the next week or two,'' says Rosenberg, who insists that members could conceivably work after the June 30 deadline for hammering out a new contract. ''That doesn't mean we're going on strike, but we need...to achieve the best deal we can. I'm really optimistic.''