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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood's latest labor cliffhanger will dangle unsettled for at least several more days.
The major film studios and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) met on Wednesday to discuss the "final" contract offer presented to the union earlier this week, just before their old labor pact expired, but the session ended inconclusively.
In brief, low-key statements, the two sides said their four-hour meeting amounted to a question-and-answer session about the 43-page proposal issued by the studios when long-stalled talks broke off on Monday.
"SAG asked for more time to study our final offer and indicated it will contact the producers on Monday," said the studios' bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
No further meetings were scheduled, it said.
SAG's statement gave no hint of its next move, except to say it would "further analyze" the studios' answers to its questions "over the next several days in order to prepare a response to management's proposal."
The studio offer contains essentially the same terms as a deal brokered by SAG's smaller sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), which SAG leaders have vehemently opposed as a weak compromise.
SAG has sought to persuade its 40,000 members who belong to both unions to reject AFTRA's tentative contract in a ratification vote that comes to a close next Tuesday.
SAG leaders argue that defeating the AFTRA deal could give them the leverage to clinch a more favorable settlement for all actors under the larger SAG contract covering the work of 120,000 members in both prime-time television and movies.
The old SAG deal expired at midnight on Monday after 42 days of negotiations stretching back to mid-April.
SAG's talks hit some of the same stumbling blocks that led Hollywood writers to go on strike months ago, including disagreements over how union talent should be paid for work created especially for the Internet.
Basic provisions of the old SAG pact remain in effect for now. But if the union rejects the studios' latest offer -- a package they say is worth more than $250 million in additional compensation -- management could impose its terms.
SAG's only recourse at that point, besides capitulation, would be a strike, a move that union leaders have downplayed.
Many industry watchers doubt SAG, whose leadership has been divided over the anti-AFTRA campaign, could even muster the support necessary for a walkout, which would take weeks to organize and require a 75 percent majority vote of members.
Whatever SAG decides to do, no one expects the union to take decisive action before next Tuesday or Wednesday, when the outcome of the AFTRA deal is known.
In the meantime, much of the entertainment industry already has slipped into "de facto strike" mode, as major studios halt film production in anticipation of costly labor disruptions.
But SAG has signed special waivers with over 300 independent producers allowing actors to continue working for those companies in the event of a walkout. Production on many TV shows has plowed ahead as well.