August 18, 2008 / 5:11 AM / 9 years ago

Coastal split widens in actors contract stalemate

<p>A general view shows the Screen Actors Guild National Headquarters in Los Angeles July 9, 2008.Mario Anzuoni</p>

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The New York regional board of the Screen Actors Guild demanded on Sunday that the Hollywood union take meaningful steps toward negotiating a new contract by August 25 or bring in a federal mediator.

Sam Freed, a member of the negotiating committee who is also president of the New York board and the union's second national vice president, said that the longer the union waits to make a deal, the more it hurts its members.

"All of us in New York, Hollywood and across the country should be concerned about how this failure to reach an agreement is impacting our members," Freed said. "They have already suffered significantly as a result of the (Writers Guild of America) strike, and now they are experiencing an additional loss of work, made worse when they can find a job, by having to work without a contract under old terms and conditions.

"There are some who feel we have all the time in the world to make this deal," he added. "We on the New York board do not."

The move drew immediate fire from SAG president Alan Rosenberg.

"This advisory motion is not in the best interests of New York Division SAG members or any SAG members across the country," he said in a statement. "It could delay and prolong the negotiations by emboldening management with a false belief that SAG actors are split on the issues."

'NOTHING IS HAPPENING'

In its statement, the New York board rejected Friday's message from SAG leaders that members of the negotiating committee are meeting informally with industry representatives and members of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers to hash out a new contract for television and film. The board said that "nothing is happening and we are no closer to a deal than we were six weeks ago.

"In failing to bargain realistically with the AMPTP and remove unattainable items from the table, our negotiating team, controlled by the current Hollywood leadership, has pursued an agenda that has more to do with politics than with securing a beneficial contract and has betrayed the trust of the membership," the statement continued.

On Friday, SAG released a statement reassuring its members that while formal negotiations between the union and the studios and production companies appear halted, its leaders are meeting informally with industry representatives.

"SAG and AMPTP full committees (which combined number over 100 people) will meet face-to-face again when we have reached a deal and shake hands across the table. We are all hopeful that will happen soon," the guild said.

The AMPTP, however, said no discussions are taking place, informal or otherwise.

"Claims by SAG's negotiators about informal talks are no more true today than they were when first made two weeks ago," the studios said in a statement. "Negotiations concluded when the producers presented their final offer on June 30, and no meetings are scheduled."

On August 3, SAG's chief negotiator, Doug Allen, similarly claimed that back-channel talks with studios were taking place, which the AMPTP denied at that time as well.

SUGGESTION QUESTIONED

Allen was skeptical of the New York's board call for mediation.

"Mediation is an option available any time the parties mutually agree to it," he said Sunday. "Mediation does not guarantee that negotiations will accelerate to an agreement and often has slowed the process down, as recently seen in the WGA negotiations which included mediation," he said, referring to the Hollywood writers' union's three-month strike. "It has not, up to this point, been viewed as something the parties feel would facilitate an agreement."

The AMPTP valued its final offer at $250 million, but SAG maintains that it falls short in several areas, including matters of DVD residuals and mileage reimbursement. SAG also claims that the offer does not include jurisdiction over new media.

"SAG has made significant compromises to reach tentative agreement on the resolved issues," it stated. "We also believe that what we are asking for, to close the gap and make this deal, is extremely reasonable and addresses the actual needs of actors and their families in these times of technological advances and economic challenges."

In a July 28 statement, the AMPTP said the new media framework in the deal grants SAG shared jurisdiction with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the smaller performers' union, over original new-media programs.

It also stated that "all of the new-media terms in the producers' final offer, including those related to original new-media programs, are subject to a sunset clause that protects both performers and producers by allowing the two sides to reevaluate all of the new media terms in three years and bargain from a point of greater knowledge about the market's development."

Late Sunday, the studios reiterated their intention to hold firm on new media.

"Every effort by SAG's negotiators to reopen these talks to fundamentally alter the new-media terms and make unreasonable economic demands has been flatly and consistently rejected by the producers at every level of these talks. The AMPTP's position on its final offer could not be any clearer, and no amount of dead-of-the-night emails by SAG leaders is going to change the fundamental facts."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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