LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With Hollywood actors’ major film and TV labor contract set to expire in days, union negotiators are expected to seek an extension of the pact with studios, giving them more time to reach a deal and avoid a strike.
The existing three-year contract covering 120,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild runs through June 30 and officially expires July 1, a date widely seen as likely to pass without a settlement or a work stoppage, plunging the world’s entertainment capital into labor limbo.
The union’s national executive committee granted its negotiators permission to seek a formal contract extension with the studios’ bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, a SAG spokeswoman said on Thursday.
But the two sides must agree mutually on terms of an extension, a pact that is unlikely to be reached until closer to the deadline.
Without an extension, the old contract remains in effect for working actors. But the studios could present a “last, best and final offer,” which SAG could accept or reject. Rejection allows studios to impose the terms of their final offer, and SAG’s recourse, besides capitulation, would be a strike.
SAG’s contract talks, which began in April, have bogged down on some of the same issues that led Hollywood writers to walk off the job months ago, including disagreements over how union talent should be paid for work created for the Internet.
SAG also has been pressing for an increase in the residual fees actors earn from TV shows and movies sold on DVD, a demand the studios have vowed never to budge on.
ACTORS’ TURF BATTLE
Industry watchers have their eyes focused on another key deadline, July 8, when SAG’s smaller sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, counts ballots in a ratification vote for its own tentative TV contract.
SAG has launched a campaign to persuade its 40,000 members who belong to both unions to vote “no” on AFTRA’s pact, saying it falls short on many issues and undermines SAG’s position.
A “yes” vote, SAG argues, increases the likelihood it will need to resort to a strike. AFTRA claims a “no” vote makes a strike more likely because a better deal for actors cannot be achieved without a work stoppage.
Movie star George Clooney on Thursday weighed in on the union dispute, taking a middle-of-the-road position. He issued a statement suggesting a special panel of Hollywood stars, such as Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks, be formed to seek annual union salary adjustments for working-class actors.
One of several big-name performers who had pressed SAG leaders to start contract talks early this year, Clooney also called for major stars to pay higher union dues.
Meanwhile, many in Hollywood see an actors strike as improbable given the lingering fatigue from a 14-week walkout by screenwriters that ended in February, after disrupting movie production and bringing much of the TV industry to a halt.
Some question whether SAG could even muster the 75 percent majority needed to authorize union leaders to call a strike, a process that would probably take three weeks. So far, SAG officials have not said whether they would hold such a vote.
But much of the industry has nonetheless shifted into a “de facto strike” mode, as major studios wind down production on all but a handful of movies ahead of the July 1 deadline.
TV networks, meanwhile, are said to be considering delaying the launch of the fall schedule should a strike materialize, while their studios work through the summer on many shows rather than taking off from their customary preseason hiatus.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Beech