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WGA says producers are not fulfilling contract

With timing made for the movies, the Hollywood writers union now claims studios are stiffing them for work used on the Internet — just as the Screen Actors Guild plans to ask its members for a vote to strike over Internet payments.

The two unions appear to be reading from the same script with an eye to disrupting the upcoming Hollywood awards season, much as last year’s strike abbreviated the Golden Globes.

“If, God forbid, we should go on strike, you want to do it at a time when it has the most impact,” Guild president Alan Rosenberg told The Associated Press Monday. “We want to use whatever leverage we can muster.”

Federally mediated talks between the actors union and Hollywood’s major studios broke down early Saturday. The writers union ended a 100-day strike Feb. 12.

The actors union claims studios want to cut the residual fees actors receive when their work appears in reruns by shifting reruns to the Internet, where fees are a minimum of about $23 per actor, compared with more than $700 for TV reruns.

The Writers Guild of America said in an arbitration claim last week that the studios are not even paying the lower fee.

The writers union says the Internet residuals apply to films made after July 1971 and TV programs from 1977 and later, while the studios say they apply only to work done after Feb. 13 of this year.

The studios also argue any shift in reruns to the Internet is not deliberate, and that residuals are lower there because less revenue is generated online than on TV.

“The companies have reneged on this agreement,” John F. Bowman, chair of the Writers Guild of America’s negotiating committee last year, said in a statement.

Outrage has spilled into the ranks of actors and is serving as fodder for their union’s push for a vote as soon as possible on whether to strike.

“The writers did have something in place and apparently the producers aren’t honoring that,” said Susyn Elise Duris, 48, an actress who played a parent in the 2005 movie “Coach Carter.” “That’s an issue.”

Will bad economic times influence the vote?Ron Perkins, a 58-year-old actor with a recurring role as a doctor on NBC’s “Heroes,” said the issue highlighted why actors have been holding out since their contract expired in June.

“The other unions who have accepted contracts are finding out, especially with the writers, that there are some problems,” he said. “I think we need to stand behind our leadership.”

Adding residuals for material reused via Internet downloads was a “core issue” of last winter’s writers strike.

A vote on whether to strike could take more than a month. It requires 75 percent approval to pass.

Neither the worsening economy nor the looming awards season is causing either side to blink.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the major Hollywood studios, said Monday in a statement that it “simply cannot put the future of the industry at stake — even if it means that awards shows are disrupted in some way.”

The studio group refuses to alter the new media agreement that it has reached with six other labor groups, including directors, writers, stagehands and another actors union.

“SAG cannot justify why it deserves a better deal,” the group’s statement said.

Rosenberg, the actors union leader, discounted the argument that the midst of a recession was the wrong time to call for a strike.

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The guild is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, and Rosenberg noted the group was founded in 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, after studios sought to cut actors’ pay by 50 percent.

“The economy is bad for us and it’s bad for the employers as well,” he said. “These hard economic times ought to induce both of us to get back to the table and avoid a work stoppage.”

“You can’t use hard economic times as an excuse to sell out the future,” he said.

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