November 20, 2008 / 10:02 PM / 10 years ago

Hollywood actors, studios meet again with mediator

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - After weeks of shuttle diplomacy, a U.S. federal mediator brought labor negotiators for major Hollywood studios and the Screen Actors Guild back together on Thursday for their first meeting in four months.

Tourists pause on a walkway at a shopping mall which offers a view of the famed Hollywood sign at the hills in California March 14, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

It remained unclear whether the session would end up being a formality or lead to a breakthrough in contract talks that have deadlocked in large part over how much actors should be paid for content delivered over the Internet.

Representatives for the studios and SAG both declined to comment on the meeting.

The studios cut off negotiations with SAG negotiators on June 30 when they presented the guild with a “final” offer, hours before the expiration of their old contract covering 120,000 union performers in prime-time television and movies.

Management’s latest offer essentially mirrors terms approved by several other Hollywood unions, most recently a deal reached on Wednesday between producers and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, IATSE.

SAG leaders have held out for a better deal, while the studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, have refused to budge.

The two sides last met face to face on July 16 for a two-hour session that yielded no perceptible progress.

The mediator stepped in last month at the behest of the actors union after SAG’s national governing board voted to seek third-party intervention. At the time, the board declared it would ask union members to authorize a strike if mediation failed to achieve a settlement.

A strike authorization would require 75 percent approval of members who cast a vote. Some industry watchers have suggested the studios may be going through the motions of mediation to avoid giving SAG leaders a rallying cry that would help them muster support for a walkout.

The industry wants to avoid a strike similar to the Writers Guild of America (WGA) work stoppage in late 2007 and early 2008 that lasted 14 weeks, brought most of prime-time TV production to a halt and cost the Los Angeles-area economy an estimated $3 billion.

In laying the groundwork for Thursday’s meeting, mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez met twice separately with the studios and SAG.

Their encounter comes as tensions flared on another Hollywood labor front. The WGA on Thursday, accused the studios of reneging on terms of their 9-month-old labor pact.

The WGA says producers have failed to pay residuals — fees for reusing writers’ work — on Internet downloads of “library” TV shows produced after 1977 and feature films produced after 1971. The union has sought arbitration of the matter.

The studios disputed the WGA’s charges, saying that the contract requires that residuals be paid only on such library content released in new media after the effective date of the new agreement.

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