June 19, 2008 / 3:02 AM / 9 years ago

Strike-vote question looms for Hollywood actors

<p>A sculptor works at a sand park exhibition in Pera, southern Portugal May 4, 2008. REUTERS/Hugo Correia</p>

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - As the Screen Actors Guild inches closer to the June 30 expiration date of its TV/film contract, two questions come to the fore.

Will SAG extend the contract, enabling its members to keep working while negotiators keep bargaining?

And, will the guild ask its members to vote to authorize a strike -- assuming they can’t reach a deal in the next two weeks with the studios and networks?

The answers are not so clear.

The decision on whether to call for a strike-authorization vote is up to SAG’s 13-member negotiating committee, which consists of members from Hollywood, New York and other regions; the Hollywood members have a clear the majority.

The strike-authorization voting process would likely take at least two weeks, as it did in 2007 for the Writers Guild of America. In that case, the WGA sent strike-authorization materials to members at the beginning of October, with ballots due October 18. The results of the vote were announced October 20.

The WGA rank-and-file was unified on the strike front, but that does not appear to be the case with SAG. Many industry insiders believe it would be a risky move for the guild to take a vote because it would be next to impossible to get the 75 percent strike authorization vote it needs. Members’ reluctance to vote for a strike is in part a reaction to the financial toll of the three-month writers’ strike, which ended in February. Other factors are Hollywood’s overall weariness with labor strife and the divisiveness within SAG’s ranks, which surfaced after its leadership urged members of its fellow actors’ union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), to reject their tentative agreement.

If SAG were to vote to give its leadership the go-ahead to call a walkout, it could give its negotiators more leverage with the AMPTP. Conversely, the failure of a strike vote would tip the scales in the other direction.

So far, there seems to be no movement by SAG’s negotiating team on the strike-authorization front, although its chief negotiator and national executive director, Doug Allen, has indicated that a new contract is unlikely to be brokered by June 30.

PRECEDENT EXTENSION

SAG can extend the contract by weeks or months, and it would not be the first time SAG did so with its contract for TV and theatrical film. In 2001, the guild extended the pact three days beyond the June 30 expiration date while it continued negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

In the meantime, formal talks between SAG and the AMPTP continued Tuesday for the 32nd day.

SAG started talks April 15 but had to suspend the negotiations when AFTRA began its talks May 7. It returned to the table May 28, the day AFTRA announced it had reached a tentative agreement with the studios. Insiders say that break stopped what bargaining momentum there was, and the two sides have made little progress since they returned to the table.

Allen said the studios have not been ”engaged in making meaningful moves in our direction. We’ve made many more moves in their direction than they’ve made in ours.

“We’re here to get a deal done and to do it as soon as we can get it done,” he added. “We’re committed to the bargaining process. We just need management to be as committed as we are.”

The AMPTP has denied Allen’s contentions, pointing to the fact that it has successfully negotiated four other contracts with three unions (WGA, Directors Guild of America and AFTRA’s Network Code and primetime/TV contract) so far this year.

“Ever since SAG’s Hollywood leadership launched its distracting campaign against AFTRA, SAG’s negotiators have quite clearly been stalling for time, trying to run out the clock while SAG tried to defeat AFTRA’s new contract,” AMPTP spokesman Jesse Hiestand said. “There is no mystery about what is going on here.”

With AFTRA gearing up to send the new contract to members for ratification, SAG has turned to a campaign urging the 44,000 members it shares with AFTRA to vote down its sister union’s new deal.

Allen said AFTRA adopted the deal approved by the DGA’s membership earlier this year without any change.

“What they did in new media is precisely what the DGA ended up with and not at all what AFTRA and SAG proposed initially, or where SAG is in our proposal today,” Allen said.

AFTRA has defended its tentative contract, claiming that it now has jurisdiction over “made for new media” content and built on the DGA and WGA residual pattern, establishing rate structures for ad-supported streaming, paid downloads and new-media rentals.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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