Screen Actors Guild gets jump on labor talks

Wed Apr 2, 2008 10:46pm EDT
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The smaller of Hollywood's two actors unions said on Wednesday it would give its larger, more militant sibling, the Screen Actors Guild, a two-week head start in opening the next round of labor talks with studios.

A day after SAG, which represents about 120,000 film and TV actors, announced it would commence contract negotiations on April 15, the 70,000-member American Federation of Television and Radio Artists said it would launch its own talks with producers on April 28.

The two unions had bargained together on their respective prime-time TV contracts for 27 years, but recent tensions between the two reached a boiling point on Saturday when AFTRA suspended their joint negotiating pact to go it alone.

The schism initially left unclear which union would go first in trying to reach a deal with the studios' bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, before their current contracts expire June 30.

Many in Hollywood had speculated the studios might prefer to begin talks with AFTRA, widely seen as less confrontational than SAG and more likely to agree to terms favorable to the industry, thus weakening SAG's bargaining position.

However, SAG's contract also covers work on movies, and Hollywood studios are eager to reach a settlement with actors as soon as possible to dispel jitters about the potential for renewed labor unrest that is already disrupting the film industry.

Seven weeks after the end of a tumultuous 100-day walkout by screenwriters, studios refuse to launch any production they cannot finish before the actors' contract runs out on June 30, a date being treated as a de facto strike deadline.

Two sources close to the talks said AFTRA already had locked in its April 28 start date with the studios before SAG announced it would open its negotiations on April 15.   Continued...

<p>Screen Actors Guild member Enos Doyle carries a sign on the picket line at NBC studios in Burbank, California February 8, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>