Hollywood actors seen approving new labor pact

Wed Jun 3, 2009 7:05pm EDT
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By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A year of labor unrest in Hollywood is seen ending next week when the largest actors' union is expected to approve a new contract with film and TV studios in a close vote, industry watchers said on Wednesday.

The Screen Actors Guild, which represents 120,000 actors, remains sharply divided over the labor deal ahead of a June 9 vote count. But many members fear a repeat of the 2007/2008 writers strike that cost the Los Angeles area economy as much as $3 billion.

Filmmaking already has slowed this past year as producers worried about starting production then being forced to halt if new labor strife developed. Location movie production in Los Angeles hit a record low in 2009's first quarter, falling 56 percent from 2008, according to permit issuer Film L.A.

SAG's old labor contract expired on June 30, 2008, although actors are still working under its terms. But now Hollywood wants to get fully back to work and remove any uncertainty over a possible work stoppage, the experts said.

"I think it will be ratified, but I think they (detractors) will be able to drive the (yes vote) percentage down pretty dramatically," Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney who has tracked the contract talks.

Sam Freed, a high-ranking member of SAG's national board of directors and a supporter of the contract, said he is optimistic it will win approval.

"It's important that we get this contract signed and we move on," Freed said.

He is part of a moderate SAG faction supporting the deal that calls for a 3 percent wage increase this year, 3.5 percent next year and coverage for work done for the Internet. They say it is the best deal possible in a recession, and further gains can be achieved in 2011 during the next round of labor talks.   Continued...

<p>Actress Lisa Lee carries a sign inside the Kodak Theatre protesting the ongoing contract talks between the Screen Actors' Guild and Hollywood's major studios as preparations continue for the 81st Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, February 20, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>