June 26, 2008 / 6:13 AM / 9 years ago

Hollywood actors set to work without contract

<p>The Hollywood sign is seen on a hazy afternoon in Los Angeles, California, November 4, 2007. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok</p>

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - For the industry, D-Day is Monday, when the Screen Actors Guild’s contract with the Hollywood studios expires. But does that “D” stand for disaster? Denouement? Or simply delay?

While the union has yet to seek a strike authorization vote from its members, the industry is already in a “de facto” strike, with the studios winding down all but a few film productions by Monday. Hollywood is still recovering from a 14-week writers strike that ended in February.

SAG’s national executive committee has approved a measure granting its negotiators the authority to seek an extension of the contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, the studios’ bargaining arm. Though not a requirement, an extension seems to be a near certainty.

“If there’s an agreement to extend, they can extend it by a month, a week or day-to-day,” said attorney Scott Witlin of Akin Gump, whose clients include producers. “Or they can have no extension and the contract lapses. But that doesn’t automatically mean there’s a strike. That just means there could be one at any time if SAG gets strike authorization.”

Without a contract extension, the union would be taking a risk at the table. Labor laws would permit the studios to make “a last, best and final offer,” which SAG would be obliged to accept or reject. If SAG were to reject, the studios could impose the terms of their final offer.

“SAG’s only option at that point is to take it or take a strike vote,” said Alan Brunswick, a labor lawyer at Manatt Phelps & Phillips who once served as in-house counsel to the

AMPTP.

SAG would need 75 percent of its 140,000 members to vote in favor of a strike, and many industry watchers believe it would fall short. Dire economic forecasts and the fatigue lingering from the 100-day writers walkout are the factors most cited as negatives that would weigh on the guild membership.

THESPIAN FEUD

The other big factor is SAG’s increasingly bitter dispute with smaller sister union AFTRA, which already has a tentative deal with the studios. SAG has enlisted such stars as Jack Nicholson, Ben Stiller and Nick Nolte in a campaign to urge AFTRA’s 70,000 members to vote against ratification.

Other A-list performers, including Tom Hanks, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin and Sally Field, who won an Oscar for her role as a sweatshop union organizer in “Norma Rae,” have sided with AFTRA in publicly urging a “yes” vote.

SAG leaders say AFTRA’s tentative labor deal, covering work on prime-time television, is fatally flawed and undercuts SAG’s position in its own contract talks.

The two unions had bargained together for nearly three decades, but AFTRA decided to go its own way earlier this year after long-simmering tensions with SAG reached a boiling point.

SAG has suggested the two unions could reunite afterward to bargain jointly. But AFTRA leaders say they have negotiated the best deal possible, one they say improves on contracts obtained earlier this year by Hollywood directors and striking screenwriters, and they vow not to go back to the bargaining table with SAG under any circumstances.

“Given the animosity that has developed because of this campaign, it’s hard to see the two unions cooperate in terms of the future,” said Akin Gump’s Witlin. “I don’t think AFTRA would have any confidence that SAG would engage in expeditious negotiations.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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