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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Dissidents who blamed hard-line leaders of the Screen Actors Guild for deadlocking contract talks with major studios made pivotal gains in the union's national board elections on Thursday, winning greater control for moderates.
A SAG faction calling itself Unite for Strength won six of the 11 seats up for grabs on the board's Hollywood division, including the reelection of actress Morgan Fairchild, who ran as an independent but was endorsed by the insurgents.
The victorious dissidents include two stars from TV's "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff "Private Practice" -- Kate Walsh and Amy Brenneman -- plus Doug Savant from "Desperate Housewives," "Chicago Hope" veteran Adam Arkin and film and TV actor Ken Howard.
The insurgents also won 13 of 22 alternate board seats up for grabs in Hollywood. Alternates are frequently called upon to fill in at board meetings when higher-profile members are working.
The new members take office on September 25, SAG said.
The majority of the board's influential Hollywood branch is still held by a coalition known as Membership First, led by SAG President Alan Rosenberg, who swept to power in 2005 pledging to take a tougher stance with studios in labor negotiations.
But Unite for Strength members can now wield effective control over the national board by aligning with like-minded moderates from New York and other branches of the guild who have joined Hollywood dissidents in criticizing Rosenberg.
They accuse him of mishandling labor talks and straining relations with SAG's smaller sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, through SAG's failed campaign months ago to scuttle a contract negotiated separately between AFTRA and the studios.
"We offered members a clear choice in this election -- end the fighting with AFTRA and instead partner with them to create a stronger union for performers," dissident spokesman and newly elected alternate Ned Vaughn said in a statement.
"We look forward to working with all of our colleagues on the board to move SAG in this new direction," he said.
There was no immediate response from Rosenberg or his allies.
Still, the election's outcome leaves the immediate future of SAG's stalemated contract negotiations in doubt.
Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer with ties to both Hollywood labor and management, said SAG and the studios were unlikely to make much progress toward a settlement before early next year. He said the newly reconstituted board could take months to even decide whether to appoint new negotiators.
"No matter what happens, there won't be a new deal before January 1 at the earliest," Handel said.
For now, SAG members are working under the terms of their old contract, which expired June 30, hours after the studios presented the union with a "final" offer.
The contract at issue covers the work of 120,000 SAG members in prime-time TV and movies, an industry still recovering from a 14-week writers strike that ended in February.
The studios' latest offer essentially mirrors terms of the AFTRA deal. Rosenberg has said those terms fall short in several respects, including payments for actors in new media, and he has sought to reopen negotiations with the studios. Industry executives have refused to budge.