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Studios' 'Final Offer' Safe for Now

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LOS ANGELES When the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers made its "final" contract offer to the Screen Actors Guild on June 30, it came with a caution: The offer would remain on the table unless there's a drastic change in the economy.

With Wall Street plunging, that day may be here. Since the June 30 offer was made, Disney shares have fallen 9 percent -- and that's by far the least of the bunch. In that same frame, CBS is off 33 percent, News Corp. is down 30 percent, Time Warner is down nearly 25 percent, and Viacom is off 23 percent.

Sources with the AMPTP said Monday that the offer would remain intact -- at least until Oct. 18, when the newly realigned SAG national board meets and votes on whether to bring a strike authorization vote to its membership.

If members are asked to give the board strike authorization, the AMPTP is likely to wait until the results of that vote are in. What that means to the industry is that the current stalemate between SAG and the AMPTP is likely to continue for weeks and could extend into November.

If the actors go out on strike, production could slow or halt throughout the film, TV and Web industries and have serious consequences for media firms, advertisers and agencies.

But SAG chief negotiator Doug Allen said it would be unfair for the AMPTP to take the final offer off the table -- despite its inadequacies by guild standards -- and punish the actors for the downturn by offering them less than what directors, writers and AFTRA performers received.

"How is it fair for the AMPTP to espouse 'pattern bargaining' on the one hand, and to take an offer off the table, which has been made to other unions, on the other hand?" Allen said. 

In any event, the worsening U.S. economy makes it all the more unlikely that the AMPTP -- which maintains that it is done bargaining -- will sweeten its offer to SAG.

Anne-Marie Johnson, a member of the SAG Hollywood board faction MembershipFirst, whose members control the majority of the negotiating committee, dismissed the economic downturn as a factor in the guild's strike authorization decision.

"The industry will remain very solvent and exceedingly healthy during any economic downturn," Johnson said. "That is what this industry is about." Johnson pointed to the Depression and recessions as examples of the entertainment industry doing well despite Wall Street suffering.

Sheryl Willert, a labor attorney at Williams Kastner in Seattle, said the economy "certainly should cause the members of SAG to step back and look at the opportunities they're giving up if they go on strike."

Taking a strike authorization vote does not necessarily mean the guild is going to instantly go on strike. Rather, it can be used as a way to change the studio's perception that they have leverage.

The AMPTP has said it's "unrealistic for SAG negotiators now to expect even better terms during this grim financial climate. This is the harsh economic reality, and no strike will change that reality."