Hollywood unions rift derails unified labor talks

Sun Mar 30, 2008 2:39pm EDT
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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A unified front by Hollywood's two actors' unions engaged in labor talks with movie studios has dissolved in acrimony, leaving them to negotiate separate deals before a strike deadline.

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or AFTRA, told the Screen Actors Guild, or SAG, late on Saturday that it was terminating a joint negotiation agreement, accusing the more-powerful SAG of trying to undermine it.

"AFTRA believes it must devote its full energies to working on behalf of performers, and not wasting its time assessing whether our partner is being honest with us," AFTRA President Roberta Reardon said in a statement.

Reardon said AFTRA aimed to negotiate a contract as soon as possible for its 70,000 members, who include actors, singers, dancers, announcers and other broadcast performers.

The 120,000-strong SAG called AFTRA's move "calculated" and "cynical" and said it did not serve members' interests.

The two unions have clashed over territorial and procedural issues, with SAG pondering a stance on soap operas -- an area traditionally handled by AFTRA -- and seeking more seats on the joint bargaining committee under the rationale that it shoulders more of the work.

The current film and TV contract expires on June 30, which is being treated as the de facto strike deadline. An actors' strike would deal a major blow to Hollywood, where nerves are still raw from the 14-week writers' strike that ended February 12.

The unions share many of the same demands as writers, who sought more money for work distributed over the Internet, but the actors also face unique issues such as forced commercial endorsements through product placement in TV shows and movies.

The studios are represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Pictures, which said it was "pleased" to hear AFTRA was ready to begin talks immediately.

(Reporting by Scott Hillis)