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Screen Actors Guild still pursuing better deal

The Screen Actors Guild leaders are determined to cut a more profitable deal with Hollywood studios, but the studios themselves are saying a final offer has been made.
/ Source: Reuters

A day after losing a bid to scuttle a rival union's new labor contract with Hollywood's studios, Screen Actors Guild leaders insisted on Wednesday they were determined to negotiate a better deal, despite the studios' assertion that bargaining is over.

Negotiators for SAG and the studios planned to meet on Thursday to discuss the "final offer" management presented the union when contract talks broke off in stalemate last week, hours before SAG's old labor agreement expired.

That contract covers work performed by 120,000 SAG members in prime-time TV and movies, an industry still recovering from a 14-week writers strike that ended in February.

SAG's contract talks have foundered on some of the same issues that led to the Writers Guild of America strike, including disagreements over how union talent should be paid for work created especially for the Internet.

The studios' bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, gave its latest offer Monday as a take-it-or-leave-it proposal, saying it was done talking.

But SAG's executive director and chief negotiator, Doug Allen, suggested on the eve of his union's formal response that the door to further deal-making remained open.

"I don't know that those categorical statements are always to be taken at face value," he told Reuters. "In fact, somebody from the WGA told me they got a total of 10 final offers from the AMPTP (during their talks). So we'll see."

SAG's deputy executive director, Pamm Fair, sounded a similar note in a statement issued by the union in response to an open letter from the studios to state lawmakers and local politicians accusing the union of foot-dragging.

Bargaining over?"If anyone is stalling, it's the AMPTP by suggesting that bargaining is over, when we clearly haven't achieved an agreement that is fair for actors and the industry," she said.

AMPTP spokesman Jesse Hiestand said the studios were not ready to abandon their position saying "you don't make a final offer expecting a counter-response." But he did not rule out the possibility of further movement by each side.

"It really depends on what they say," he said, adding, "We could conceivably end up in a real period of stalemate here for a while. ... We don't want that to happen. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail and we'll make a deal."

The studios' latest proposal to SAG essentially mirrors the terms contained in the separate TV-only deal ratified on Tuesday by members of the smaller American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or AFTRA.

The AFTRA deal won approval with 62 percent of the vote, despite an all-out campaign by SAG to persuade some 40,000 of its members who belong to both unions to reject the settlement, which SAG leaders have branded as inadequate.

AFTRA leaders attributed the slimmer-than-usual margin of approval to SAG's "disinformation" campaign.

But Allen said the final tally, with about 38 percent voting against the AFTRA deal, casts doubt on whether a majority of SAG's rank-and-file would embrace nearly identical terms contained in the studios' final offer to them. That, he said, could give SAG enough additional clout.

"Clearly, if you take the broadcast members of AFTRA, who don't work for this contract, out of the mix, this becomes very close to a 50-50 proposition," Allen told Reuters.

So far, SAG leaders have played down the likelihood of a strike, and many industry watchers doubt SAG could muster the support needed in light of lingering fatigue from the writers strike and a souring economy.

Allen said SAG's leaders had authorized negotiators to seek a strike authorization, but added that they are focused "on trying to reach an agreement by bargaining."