Time running out for actors' contract talks

Mon Jun 23, 2008 1:07am EDT
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By Leslie Simmons

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The Screen Actors Guild celebrated its 75th anniversary this weekend in the face of a grim reality: There are only eight days left to negotiate a deal with the major producers and studios before its TV/theatrical contract expires.

Adding to the headaches for SAG's leadership, its campaign against ratification of the tentative deal cut by sister union AFTRA -- nearly 40,000 actors are in both unions -- was undercut over the weekend when Tom Hanks became the most high-profile member to sign an e-mail message from more than 100 actors urging a yes vote on AFTRA's recently brokered primetime/TV contract.

The two unions had jointly negotiated their main TV contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP), the bargaining body for the studios, for nearly three decades. But AFTRA decided to go it alone earlier this year after long-simmering tensions with the larger, more militant SAG reached a boiling point.

The AFTRA deal includes increases in the "residual" payments earned by actors from Internet downloads of TV shows and for online streaming of those programs, as well as higher wages for work in traditional media. But there are no provisions to raise the residuals from DVD sales -- a key demand of SAG at the outset of its labor talks in April and one the studios have staunchly resisted.

So far, SAG has made little progress in its negotiations with AMPTP, and SAG's chief negotiator Doug Allen has indicated he expects the talks to extend past the June 30 deadline. Hollywood remains on edge from the 100-day writers strike that paralyzed much of the TV industry, derailed various film projects and idled thousands of production workers.

Many in the industry speculate that SAG has slowed the negotiations process in order to see what happens with its "Vote No" campaign against the AFTRA deal. The AMPTP has blamed SAG's preoccupation with voting down the AFTRA contract as the reason for the slow progress.

"The negotiations stalled at almost the exact time that SAG began its anti-AFTRA campaign, and they're clearly focused on waiting until July 7 to see the results of the ratification vote," the studios said in a statement.

But others say the AMPTP is the one dragging its feet and that by not simply offering SAG the AFTRA contract, and forcing the actors union to "bargain up" to what AFTRA got in its deal, it has slowed the pace of talks.   Continued...

<p>Actor Steve Carrell mops his brow while he holds his award for best ensemble comedy for "The Office" while backstage at the 14th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles January 27, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Blake</p>