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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Union moderates fighting for control of the deeply splintered Screen Actors Guild on Monday ousted the hard-line chief negotiator they blame for months of stalled contract talks with Hollywood studios.
The removal of Doug Allen as both SAG's national executive director and head of its bargaining team capped a turbulent period for the union that raised prospects of a strike, then saw power shift away from militant leaders as their stalemate with studios dragged on and the U.S. economy worsened.
Allen, hired by SAG in 2006 after two decades as a top executive at the union for National Football League players, was viewed by his critics as overly confrontational and unwilling to make the compromises necessary to close a deal.
SAG's 120,000 members have been without a film and prime-time TV contract since their old labor pact expired June 30, after negotiations collapsed and the studios presented what they called their "final" offer.
The two sides were most firmly at odds over how actors should be paid for work on the Internet, seen as the main distribution pipeline for visual entertainment in the future.
SAG moderates have since pressed for additional gains in non-Internet areas in exchange for accepting the studios' terms on new media -- essentially the same package adopted by several other Hollywood labor groups, including a smaller actors' union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
In a brief email to staff that surfaced on the Internet, Allen said he was proud of his record at SAG.
"I am disappointed in the board's decision," wrote Allen, a former NFL linebacker who was once a teammate of O.J. Simpson. "I wish Screen Actors Guild and its members success and I have been honored to serve them."
Allen's dismissal was carried out by way of a "written assent," a seldom-used procedure that enables a majority of SAG's national directors to take action outside the boardroom.
SAG's moderate faction, known as Unite For Strength, tried to oust Allen and the rest of his bargaining team during a contentious, 30-hour meeting two weeks ago. But they were thwarted in parliamentary maneuvering by the union's more militant board members, led by SAG President Alan Rosenberg.
Rosenberg, who has steadfastly supported Allen, was quoted by Hollywood trade publication Daily Variety on Monday as saying: "This is the darkest day within my memory. It kills democracy at SAG."
In a statement issued hours later, SAG said the board's latest actions, including termination of Allen, were effective immediately.
Replacing Allen as chief negotiator is John McGuire, a longtime senior adviser to the union who has been instrumental in settling dozens of SAG contracts. Lawyer David White, who has served as SAG general counsel for several years, succeeds Allen as executive director on an interim basis.
The board also dissolved the negotiating committee and appointed a smaller "task force" to seek a final deal with the studios.
Hollywood labor experts said Allen's dismissal would likely hasten a breakthrough in the months-long stalemate.
He and Rosenberg had long held fast to their Internet demands, insisting they needed a credible strike threat to get a better deal, even as the studios refused to budge.
But support for such a strategy dwindled amid a deepening recession, with big-name stars like Tom Hanks, George Clooney and Sally Field publicly opposing a strike referendum.
Only after Allen's brush with dismissal earlier this month did he capitulate, agreeing to seek to reopen contract talks and to submit management's latest offer to members for a vote.
But moderates who gained a slim majority on the 71-seat governing board in September elections said they had lost faith in Allen and insisted he go.
Editing by Eric Walsh