Strike? Now?

The Screen Actors Guild has around 120,000 members, but 80,000 of them earn less than $1,000 as SAG actors. That means they spend most of their time doing other stuff to make ends meet - tending bar, fixing computers, whatever. They're actor wanabees, but they wouldn't benefit from many of the payouts that the guild is demanding. All of which makes the pending strike authorization vote kind of tricky to handicap (here are stories from the LAT and Variety). A couple of months back the SAG strategy of holding out for a better deal received the backing of 87 percent of the 10,000 or so members who voted in a postcard poll. In normal times - and with a more typical union - you would expect that sort of solidarity. This time, though, there are lots of cross currents.

--Economy: This is not a great time to walk off your job, what with L.A.'s unemployment rate jumping last month to 8.4 percent. But does that mean much to the 80,000 members who barely make any money as actors - not to mention the thousands more who do have regular acting gigs but need to supplement that income with non-showbiz jobs? Their livelihood would not be impacted by whether or not thereís a strike.

--Studios and networks: How vulnerable would they be to another work stoppage? Unlike last year, when the media companies had made contingency plans in the event of a writers strike, there has been a general expectation that SAG would eventually come off its high horse of demands and cut a deal similar to what the writers had agreed to. Thatís why so much film and TV production resumed this summer and fall. If there is a walkout, expect lots of scrambling.

--TV ratings: The writers strike had a sizeable impact on viewership. With the possible exception of CBS, there has been a sharp drop in primetime network ratings as audiences discover DVDs, cable, DVRs and Internet downloads. Perhaps that gives the actors a bit more leverage than they might have had six months ago. One more consideration: Another possible boycott of the Golden Globes (less than two months away) and a threatened boycott of the Academy Awards.

--SAG's new look: A moderate faction won control of the guild's national board, which you would think might rachet down the demands that had been made all year. To what degree these new board members are signing off on the strike authorization vote is not known, but from the outside there doesn't appear to be much change in direction. The hard-line SAG negotiators would still seem to be running the show.

Like I said, lots of cross currents.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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