July 12, 2008 / 3:16 AM / 9 years ago

Actors union huddles over Hollywood labor stalemate

<p>A general view shows the Screen Actors Guild National Headquarters in Los Angeles July 9, 2008.Mario Anzuoni</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A day after their counterproposal to major studios' "final" contract offer was rebuffed, Screen Actors Guild leaders huddled on Friday to consider their next move in a Hollywood labor stalemate almost certain to drag into next week.

In a brief statement released in the evening, SAG said its negotiating team "met behind closed doors throughout the day today discussing bargaining strategies. The negotiations team remains committed to continue to bargain for a fair contract."

But no further talks were scheduled, and SAG made no mention of how it might proceed to reopen negotiations now that management has taken the position that bargaining is over. It concluded by saying it would provide another update on Monday.

The contract at issue covers the work of 120,000 SAG members in prime-time TV and movies, an industry still reeling from a 100-day screenwriters' strike that ended in February. A strike by the actors union was seen as unlikely, for now.

The old SAG contract expired hours after studios' bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, presented the union their "final" offer as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition on June 30.

SAG nonetheless delivered a counteroffer during a four-hour meeting on Thursday that ended with the studios refusing to budge and insisting that SAG submit the industry's latest proposal to union members for a vote.

SAG leaders have so far been unwilling to do so, saying the studio offer -- mirroring terms endorsed on Tuesday by the smaller American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in a separate TV-only contract -- falls short in several areas.

<p>A general view shows the Screen Actors Guild National Headquarters in Los Angeles July 9, 2008.Mario Anzuoni</p>

SAG has, for example, sought higher residual payments for actors from DVD sales and to extend contract coverage to virtually all made-for-Internet programming.

The two sides even disagreed over whether they were still bargaining, or what constitutes a rejection.

"Our national negotiating committee did not, as has been erroneously reported, reject the AMPTP's offer," SAG said in its statement on Friday. "Instead, we made a comprehensive counterproposal that adopted some of their proposals and offered alternatives on others."

But AMPTP spokesman Jesse Hiestand responded by saying, "The counterproposal to a final offer is a rejection to a final offer. It can't be anything else."

How the status of talks is defined is more than academic. With the old contract now lapsed, the studios could declare a formal impasse in talks, freeing them to impose the terms of their latest offer, or to institute a lockout.

Both moves are widely seen as unlikely for now, in part because they could backfire on the studios by giving SAG a rallying point for its members.

So far, SAG leaders have played down the likelihood of a strike, a move that would require a 75 percent vote by members. Many industry watchers doubt SAG could muster the support needed in light of lingering fatigue from the writers work stoppage and a souring economy

Editing by Philip Barbara.

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