April 3, 2008 / 2:17 AM / 10 years ago

Screen Actors Guild gets jump on labor talks

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The smaller of Hollywood’s two actors unions said on Wednesday it would give its larger, more militant sibling, the Screen Actors Guild, a two-week head start in opening the next round of labor talks with studios.

Screen Actors Guild member Enos Doyle carries a sign on the picket line at NBC studios in Burbank, California February 8, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

A day after SAG, which represents about 120,000 film and TV actors, announced it would commence contract negotiations on April 15, the 70,000-member American Federation of Television and Radio Artists said it would launch its own talks with producers on April 28.

The two unions had bargained together on their respective prime-time TV contracts for 27 years, but recent tensions between the two reached a boiling point on Saturday when AFTRA suspended their joint negotiating pact to go it alone.

The schism initially left unclear which union would go first in trying to reach a deal with the studios’ bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, before their current contracts expire June 30.

Many in Hollywood had speculated the studios might prefer to begin talks with AFTRA, widely seen as less confrontational than SAG and more likely to agree to terms favorable to the industry, thus weakening SAG’s bargaining position.

However, SAG’s contract also covers work on movies, and Hollywood studios are eager to reach a settlement with actors as soon as possible to dispel jitters about the potential for renewed labor unrest that is already disrupting the film industry.

Seven weeks after the end of a tumultuous 100-day walkout by screenwriters, studios refuse to launch any production they cannot finish before the actors’ contract runs out on June 30, a date being treated as a de facto strike deadline.

Two sources close to the talks said AFTRA already had locked in its April 28 start date with the studios before SAG announced it would open its negotiations on April 15.

Acknowledging her union’s differences with its larger sibling, AFTRA President Roberta Reardon also noted that roughly 44,000 actors belong to both organizations.

“AFTRA has decided to let SAG go first because we feel it is in all of our interests for SAG to maintain its momentum and because we want to give the guild a reasonable opportunity to meet with the AMPTP,” she said in a statement.

“In our view, our proposed schedule should allow SAG sufficient time to work out a good deal with the studios,” Reardon added.

Representatives for SAG and the AMPTP declined comment.

The last SAG film and TV contract took just two weeks to negotiate, with those talks ending in January 2005. But the union is now controlled by a more militant wing that opposed the terms of the last deal and was subsequently elected on a pledge to take a tougher stance at the bargaining table.

SAG’s leaders, who were strong allies of the Writers Guild of America in its strike, have said they want to improve on the terms of the deals reached by the WGA and the Directors Guild of America earlier this year. But they have sought in recent weeks to play down the possibility of further labor strife.

The writers’ strike ended February 12 after the two sides reached agreement on a deal giving writers more money for work distributed over the Internet.

Neither SAG nor AFTRA have publicly disclosed their contract demands, but both unions share many of the same labor concerns as the writers, including a desire to win a greater share of revenue generated from new media.

Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Todd Eastham

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