February 29, 2008 / 5:55 AM / in 9 years

New York actors assail union over labor talks

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The Screen Actors Guild says it will be ready to open contract talks with the studios in the spring.

But that's not good enough for the union's New York board, which wants formal negotiations for a new labor contract with producers to begin in the next four weeks.

Members of SAG's New York board announced Thursday that they have passed a resolution urging the guild leadership to begin bargaining by March 31, well before the June 30 expiration of the union's TV/theatrical contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP).

"I see absolutely no value to the members in delaying these talks any longer," said Sam Freed, the guild's New York president. "We are dealing with serious issues. We should already be at the bargaining table."

With the three-month writers strike settled just two weeks ago, Hollywood is now nervous that actors will walk off the job in the summer. The anxiety has provoked a "de facto" strike, with producers and studios afraid to go ahead with projects if there is a risk they will be interrupted by a strike.

SAG leaders have said formal talks won't begin until the "wages and working conditions" process, in which members create proposals for the negotiations, concludes at the end of March. They have also made it clear they will not be bullied into starting early talks when they are not ready.

WASTING TIME

The New York board's resolution charges that SAG's leadership "is ignoring the proven success of the strategy of early negotiations" and "wasting valuable time" by fighting with its joint bargaining partner, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).

It indicated that if its leaders were following recent precedent -- a reference to the early Directors Guild talks, which broke the Writers Guild logjam -- "negotiations on the TV/theatrical contract would now be in process and would be completed by the end of March."

"SAG should pursue a course similar to the DGA, where early negotiations short circuit the need for a strike," New York member Alec Baldwin said.

In a response, SAG national executive director and chief negotiator Doug Allen said that despite the claims that the guild is moving slowly, "we are well under way in this important, collaborative process."

Allen said internal member meetings conducted jointly with AFTRA have been productive.

"We are, and will continue, to meet with rank-and-file and high-profile members, and management representatives including the CEOs, to lay the foundation for formal regulations," he said.

In an e-mail sent to national board members late Wednesday and to the membership on Thursday morning, SAG president Alan Rosenberg and Allen said SAG's issues differed from those faced by the directors and writers.

"The compression of compensation for middle-class working actors and forced endorsement of product integration, for example, must be addressed in our negotiations," they said.

Additionally, new-media provisions negotiated by the DGA and WGA "would fall more harshly on actors than on writers and directors."

Some preparations for talks with the AMPTP are under way, including getting up-to-date financial, economic and member earnings data as well as meeting with management to work on the schedule and logistics of negotiations.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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