The cloud of labor unrest hanging over Hollywood and the upcoming awards season has grown considerably darker.
Although no date has been set, SAG leadership has begun preparations for a strike-authorization vote after two days of meetings with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers failed to break the 5-month-old deadlock on a new TV/theatrical contract.
The talks, brokered by federal mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez, ended shortly before 1 a.m. Saturday.
"We will now launch a full-scale education campaign in support of a strike-authorization referendum," SAG said. "We will further inform our members about the core, critical issues unique to actors that remain in dispute."
In response to SAG's decision to seek strike authorization, the AMPTP said, "SAG is bizarrely asking its members to bail out the failed negotiating strategy with a strike vote -- at a time of historic economic crisis. The tone deafness of SAG is stunning."
The studios' bargaining arm sent a blistering message to its 300 members, placing the blame on SAG and indicating that it would do everything it could to educate SAG members and the industry about its offer to the actors union and why SAG should accept it.
"The more SAG members understand about the fairness and strength of our offer, especially during a time of historic economic distress, the less likely they will be to authorize a strike," the message stated.
In October, SAG's national board called in Gonzalez in hopes restarting negotiations after a then-four-month stalemate. At the same time, the board also voted to give its negotiating committee the go-ahead to call for a strike-authorization vote if the mediation failed. SAG requires 75 percent of its voting members to approve the measure in order to go forward with a strike.
SAG president Alan Rosenberg has said that a strike-authorization vote does not necessarily mean the union will immediately go on strike.
The AMPTP doesn't agree.
"Make no mistake about this: If SAG members authorize a strike, then a strike is all but guaranteed because SAG has shown no willingness to compromise on its unrealistic demands," the organization told its members.
Until Thursday, the two sides had not met with each other since mid-July, when SAG responded to the AMPTP's estimated $250 million final offer with a counter-proposal that was rejected by the studios. Thursday's sessions lasted 12 hours, and the meeting that began Friday went 15 hours.
Few details of the talks have emerged, with both sides holding to a confidentiality agreement requested by the mediator.
SAG put the blame on the AMPTP for the talks failing and said that the studios continue to insist on terms the guild can't "responsibly accept."
"We don't suspend bargaining in tough economic times," SAG national executive director and chief negotiator Doug Allen said Sunday. "Now more than ever, actors need a fair contract to help the struggling middles class make a living in the future, including a future working in new media."
The AMPTP has repeatedly said that SAG will not get a deal superior to the pacts agreed to by the other industry guilds, including the WGA, DGA and AFTRA.
"We will also continue to place the burden squarely on SAG to explain why it deserves better deals than the other entertainment guilds received earlier this year -- particularly in light of the fact that the earlier deals were negotiated during better economic times, and SAG is attempting to reach a deal now during a period of tremendous economic upheaval," the AMPTP told its members.