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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hours before their contract with film and TV performers was due to expire, Hollywood studios on Monday capped weeks of stalemated labor talks by presenting the Screen Actors Guild a "final offer."
SAG, indicating it was caught off guard by the "last-minute" move, said in a brief statement it would study the industry's 43-page proposal and "prepare a response to management once that analysis is complete."
But little of substance is expected to occur before next week, when SAG leaders learn whether they have succeeded in a bid to scuttle a separate labor deal newly brokered by SAG's smaller sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).
SAG said the latest studio proposal "appears to be generally consistent" with the AFTRA deal, which SAG leaders have scorned as a weak compromise undermining their own bargaining position.
"This offer does not appear to address some key issues important to actors," SAG executive director and chief negotiator Doug Allen added in the statement.
The two sides agreed to meet again on Wednesday to discuss the industry's proposal.
The existing three-year contract covering movie and prime-time television work for 120,000 SAG members was due to expire at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, and the parties have remained at odds for months over the terms of a new deal.
The labor talks, which began in mid-April, hit some of the same stumbling blocks that led Hollywood writers to walk off the job months ago, including clashes over how union talent should be paid for work created especially for the Internet.
SAG leaders have downplayed the likelihood of staging their own strike, which would require a 75 percent vote by SAG members and take weeks to organize. But the industry already has slipped into "de facto strike" mode, as major studios halt film production in anticipation of costly labor disruptions.
"Our final offer to SAG represents a final hope for avoiding further work stoppages," the studios' bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, said in a statement circulated to the media.
The producers alliance said its package was worth more than $250 million in additional compensation to SAG members and was patterned after previous deals negotiated with Hollywood writers, directors and AFTRA.
SAG leaders have launched an all-out campaign to persuade their 40,000 members who belong to both actors unions to reject AFTRA's tentative TV contract in a ratification vote that comes to a close next Tuesday.
They argued that defeating the AFTRA deal could give SAG the leverage it needed to clinch a more favorable settlement.
SAG leaders, for example, have accused AFTRA of giving away too much on provisions extending contract coverage to made-for-Internet TV shows and requiring studios to obtain actors' consent for online display of TV clips.
The AFTRA deal also lacks increases in payments actors receive from DVD sales -- a key SAG demand.
A spokesman for the producers alliance said its negotiators were ready to explain their proposal and answer questions from SAG at Wednesday's meeting but were done with bargaining.
The basic terms of SAG's old contract remain in effect for now, though its expiration puts the union on the defensive.
It is now up to SAG leaders to accept the studios' final offer, reject it out of hand or submit it to union members for a vote, with or without some kind a recommendation.
A rejection would free the studios to impose terms of their final offer, and SAG's only recourse at that point, besides capitulation, would be a strike. Many industry watchers doubt SAG, whose leadership has been divided over the anti-AFTRA campaign, could even muster the support necessary to carry out a strike.
Whatever SAG decides to do, the studios set no deadline for a response, and no one expects the union to take decisive action before next Tuesday, said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer with ties to both sides in the talks.
"They've pinned their hopes on the AFTRA ratification vote," he said. "I don't think we'll see any real movement until July 8."
While film production by major studios has virtually ground to a halt, SAG has signed special waivers with over 300 independent producers allowing actors to continue working for those companies in the event of a walkout. Production on many TV shows has plowed ahead as well.
The last time Hollywood actors staged a strike over their main film and TV contract was in 1980, a three-month walkout to establish terms for pay-TV and video cassette production.