December 23, 2008 / 8:40 AM / 10 years ago

Divided U.S. actors union delays strike vote

Actor Tom Hanks presents the Oscar for best documentary short subject during the 80th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, February 24, 2008. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood’s deeply divided Screen Actors Guild said on Monday it has postponed a planned strike authorization vote set to begin on January 2, so that it can “address the unfortunate division and restore consensus.”

The delay comes after high-profile members such as Tom Hanks and George Clooney lent their names to a campaign that opposed strike authorization. The “yes” side counts such celebrities as Mel Gibson and Martin Sheen.

“This division does not help our effort to get an agreement from the AMPTP that our members will ratify,” the union’s chief negotiator, Doug Allen, wrote in a letter to members posted on the guild’s Web site, referring to the studios’ bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

SAG has been working without a contract since its old one expired on June 30. The main sticking point in the negotiations is pay for programing shown on the Internet. After a federal mediator last month failed to solve the impasse, SAG said it would seek strike authorization.

Such authorization requires 75 percent approval. SAG has about 120,000 members, although most of them do not work full time as actors.

The vote has been rescheduled for a three-week period immediately following a special national board meeting scheduled to take place on January 12-13, the union said. It is expected to take about three weeks to tally the votes.

A “yes” vote could cripple the Academy Awards in Hollywood on February 22, since stars will not want to cross picket lines.

Movie making by the big studios has wound down since late June in anticipation of labor strife, compounding a general slowdown from the U.S. recession.

The tension has been heightened by fatigue from a 14-week Hollywood writers strike that ended in February and cost the Los Angeles area economy around $3 billion as production stopped on most prime-time TV shows.

Reporting by Dean Goodman; editing by Alan Elsner

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