July 7, 2008 / 6:22 AM / 9 years ago

Actors unions, studios await contract vote results

<p>The famed Hollywood sign at the hills in California, March 14, 2008. The potential for a strike by the Screen Actors Guild or a possible lockout of the union's roughly 120,000 members by the studios will be greatly influenced by the results of rival union AFTRA's contract ratification vote. Ballots are due back Monday with the results expected to be announced Tuesday.Fred Prouser</p>

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Hollywood's still holding its breath.

The potential for a strike by the Screen Actors Guild or a possible lockout of the union's roughly 120,000 members by the studios will be greatly influenced by the results of rival union AFTRA's contract ratification vote. Ballots are due back Monday with the results expected to be announced Tuesday.

Since it announced its tentative deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, the bargaining arm of the studios, AFTRA has been engaged in a battle with SAG, which is urging shared members to vote the contract down. SAG says the unions could get a better deal if they negotiated together.

Most industry watchers believe a majority of AFTRA members will vote to ratify the deal. In that case, SAG would be the only major guild left without a pact -- the directors and writers signed off on deals earlier this year, the latter coming after a 100-day strike -- and would see its negotiating leverage significantly reduced.

"If this passes, it will undermine the ability of the Screen Actors Guild to negotiate a decent contract. It will be a civil war," one dual cardholder member said.

SAG is the larger of the two unions. AFTRA's membership is at 70,000 and is comprised of a variety of talent such as actors, broadcasters, radio announcers, sound recorders and dancers. The two unions share 44,000 members who are actors.

SAG spent 42 days negotiating with the AMPTP, but did not reach a deal by the June 30 contract expiry date. The AMPTP, however, made what it termed a final offer to the union six hours before the contract expired. The offer mirrors the tentative deal with AFTRA.

SAG leaders spent the Fourth of July weekend studying the studios' offer. On Wednesday, SAG negotiators met with the AMPTP for a late afternoon meeting to ask questions about the offer. No deadline for a response to the offer has been set by the AMPTP. The two sides met for an informational session last week, but SAG has made no formal response to the offer, and the studios have set no deadline.

The two actors unions, AFTRA and SAG, have had a tough year. The two groups jointly bargained their primetime/TV deals for 27 years. But that all changed in April when AFTRA, after going through the process of designing bargaining proposals with SAG, decided to negotiate on its own with the AMPTP.

AFTRA claimed many reasons for the split, including alleged jurisdictional raiding by SAG on "The Bold and the Beautiful" as well as SAG's push to try to change the voting percentage between the two unions during negotiations.

Despite SAG dropping that initiative, AFTRA decided to break from SAG. The result has been a public battle between the two unions, with A-list stars taking up sides.

Most recently, SAG recruited Sean Penn to record a message for a recorded phone call campaign. The actor urges dual cardholders to vote no on the AFTRA contract. Penn's friend, Jack Nicholson, has also been recruited by SAG. Tom Hanks, on the other hand, is campaigning for a "yes" vote.

SAG so far has not sought a strike-authorization vote and its president, Alan Rosenberg, has been vocal that there are no plans to do so.

However, the studios could decide to lock out actors if their offer to SAG is rejected. So far, the AMPTP has not set a deadline for SAG's response to the offer.

Production has slowed significantly in the industry because of the labor woes, so any lockout by the studios could be seen, at least initially, as largely symbolic.

Some joint members of the two guilds have threatened to challenge the validity of the AFTRA ratification vote if the pact is approved.

"Only affected members should vote on the contract," one anti-AFTRA contract actor said. "Allowing broadcasters and disc jockeys to vote on it, that will be challenged even if it does pass.

AFTRA's general counsel, Thomas Carpenter, discounted such moves.

"There is no avenue under the law to challenge a contract or ratification," he said. "The law is pretty clear. A union has a very wide discretion to implement practices and procedures and contract ratification without any scrutiny by the Department of Labor or labor board or arbitrator."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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