George Clooney

Daniele Venturelli/WireImage.com

George Clooney doesn't just play a fixer in the movies.

The Oscar winner, who became an unofficial spokesman for the Biz during the 100-day writers' strike that screwed things up for a lot of people earlier this year, has spoken up yet again, this time in a letter urging members of the Screen Actors Guild and its little-sister union, the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists, to make sure the very actors they're trying to help don't get lost in the shuffle created by the latest studio-union showdown.

AFTRA opted to negotiate with major studios and networks independently from SAG this year, and its leaders have been criticized for their willingness to accept a deal that, as far as SAG is concerned, lets the suits off easy.

"Both are, of course, right," Clooney wrote in a two-page memo. "AFTRA feels that a work stoppage would be devastating to its members and SAG believes that if they don't draw a line in the sand, the studios will repeat what they did with DVDs."

But, the Peacemaker star added, it's important that union heads remember who they're really fighting for—not $20 million men like Clooney (although every thesp could be affected by a work stoppage) but the thousands of working actors who don't necessarily know where their next paycheck is coming from after one shoot wraps.

"Doug Allen (the SAG national executive director) has said on several occasions that this would be a negotiation for 'the linemen, not for the quarterbacks.' (Doug did a lot of the negotiating for the NFL.) The spirit of the statement isn't wrong...it's just the structure," Clooney wrote.

"Unlike the NFL, in this guild, the quarterbacks protect the linemen. I've been very lucky in my career, which has put me in the place that I don't need a union to check on my residuals, or my pension, or protect my 12-hour turnaround. I used to need that, and may again…but right now I don't. That means it's my responsibility to look out for actors who are trying to stay afloat from year to year. Anything less is irresponsible of me."

In response to Clooney's attention-getting perspective, a rep for SAG told the Los Angeles Times Thursday that the union "appreciates George Clooney's observations and opinions regarding our current negotiations and the critical issues facing all actors today. We welcome this valuable input."

And it isn't as if Clooney wants anyone kowtowing to the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which reps the studios.

"First, we set up a panel…Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks, for instance...10 of them that sit down with the studio heads once a year...10 people that the studio heads don't often say 'no' to. Those 10 people walk in the door with all the new data that SAG and AFTRA compile, and adjust the pay for actors...once a year."

Hanks was tsk-tsked this week for adding his name to an online petition encouraging AFTRA members to approve the tentative deal the union arrived at last month. A host of other stars, including Nicholson, Viggo Mortensen, Ben Stiller and Patricia Arquette, lent their names to an ad in the Hollywood trades urging AFTRA members to reject the deal and take a tougher stance alongside SAG, whose current contract expires June 30.

"We are not finished," the ad stated. "We believe there are issues that are at the heart of every actor's career that remain unresolved by AFTRA."

What would help would be if these hotshots put their money where their mouth is, Clooney suggests.

"Second, we go to the actors who make an exorbitant amount of money, and raise their dues," he wrote. "Right now, there's a cap of 6,000 bucks that actors pay their union…based on $1 million in earnings. Make it $6,000 for every million…if someone makes $20 million, they pay $120,000 into the union. That could go a long way in helping pensions and health care. The quarterbacks have to do more.

"What we can't do is pit artist against artist...because the one thing you can be sure of is that stories about Jack Nicholson vs. Tom Hanks only strengthens the negotiating power of the producers."

Well, here's hoping a Hail Mary pass reaches the end zone in time.

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