July 2, 2008 / 11:42 PM / in 9 years

Hollywood studios, SAG meet to over contract offer

<p>President of the Screen Actors Guild Alan Rosenberg speaks at the 14th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles January 27, 2008.Danny Moloshok</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood studios and the Screen Actors Guild met on Wednesday for their first face-to-face encounter since the studios broke off long-stalled labor talks by presenting the union with a "final" contract offer.

Little of substance was expected to emerge from the meeting, which the studios said was intended strictly as a question-and-answer session about the 43-page proposal issued on Monday.

Contrary to the studios' assertions, SAG leaders have suggested the door remained open for further negotiations.

But it was not clear whether SAG planned to bring a counterproposal to the meeting, and if the union did so, whether the studios would even consider it.

The studio offer contains essentially the same terms as a labor deal recently brokered by SAG's smaller sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which SAG leaders have vehemently opposed as a weak compromise.

SAG has mounted an all-out campaign seeking to persuade its 40,000 members who belong to both unions to reject AFTRA's tentative TV contract in a ratification vote that comes to a close next Tuesday.

SAG leaders argue that defeating the AFTRA deal could give them the leverage needed to clinch a more favorable settlement for all actors under the larger SAG contract covering the work of 120,000 members in both prime-time television and movies.

That deal expired at midnight Monday, hours after the studios broke off negotiations with SAG and presented the union their "final offer" -- a version of the AFTRA deal modified to address issues unique to the film industry.

SAG's talks, which began in mid-April, hit some of the same stumbling blocks that led Hollywood writers to go on strike months ago, including disagreements over how union talent should be paid for work created especially for the Internet.

Basic provisions of the old SAG pact remain in effect for now. But if the union rejects the studios' latest offer, a package they say is worth more than $250 million in additional compensation, the studios could opt to impose its terms.

SAG's only recourse at that point, besides capitulation, would be a strike, a move that union leaders have downplayed.

Many industry watchers doubt SAG, whose leadership has been divided over the anti-AFTRA campaign, could even muster the support necessary for a walkout, which requires a 75 percent majority vote of rank-and-file members.

Whatever SAG decides to do, the studios have set no deadline for a response to their final offer, and no one expects the union to take decisive action before next Tuesday or Wednesday, when the outcome of the AFTRA deal is known.

In the meantime, much of the entertainment industry already has slipped into "de facto strike" mode, as major studios halt film production in anticipation of costly labor disruptions.

SAG, however, 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.

Reuters/Nielsen

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