SAG, Studios in First Negotiation Since June

A marathon meeting between SAG and the AMPTP on Thursday — the first session in five months — gave Hollywood some hope but no relief from its labor pains.

The two sides sat down at 10 a.m. for the meeting at AMPTP headquarters and talked until shortly after 11 p.m., at which point they agreed to reconvene Friday. The face-to-face encounter was orchestrated by federal mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez, who had met separately with each side for the past month.

Whether they were bargaining, posturing or working to establish the framework for a deal, just the fact that the actors union and studio talked substantively was the most positive development since talks broke off in June.

Both sides declined comment under orders from the mediator, and it’s possible they were restating positions, digging in or crystallizing their differences.

However, each side was able to point to developments in the past 24 hours that would provide it with some momentum to make a deal.

The AMPTP on Wednesday tentatively sealed its sixth contract of the year, this time with IATSE. The group struck deals with the DGA, WGA, the Teamsters-repped casting directors and casting associates and AFTRA (two deals with them, in fact), leaving SAG as the lone Hollywood guild without a contract.

The studios maintain there is no reason, particularly given the awful economic climate, to give SAG terms superior to those given the other unions and that the guild should accept the current offer and let the town get back to business.

SAG, however, was provided ammunition for Thursday’s meeting by the WGA. The writers guild Wednesday initiated arbitration proceedings against the AMPTP, claiming the studios have failed to make good on payments for new-media residuals that it had agreed to in the contract it signed this year.

The new-media terms are the primary sticking point for SAG. If the WGA can effectively claim that the AMPTP has reneged on the new-media terms it has worked out with the DGA, the WGA, AFTRA and, now, IATSE, it may be enough to galvanize SAG, or at least its rank and file.

The SAG national board has indicated it would send a strike-authorization referendum to members if the mediator’s efforts to bring about a settlement fail.

If 75% of voting members approve the measure, the national board will then have the authority to call a strike. Before Wednesday, it was not at all certain that SAG leaders would get the requisite 75%. Still, it’s too early to tell how much the WGA announcement will ignite a call for a strike, but it is a little more likely than it was before Wednesday.

The calendar may be working in favor of SAG’s ability to stage a potentially effective job action. The Academy Awards and other awards shows, easily the most high-profile targets SAG could find, begin early next year.

Working against the guild’s ability to stage a winning strike, along with the nation’s economic woes, is the fact that the industry is still not fully recovered from the production slowdown that developed during its negotiations and still-lingering effects of the 100-day WGA strike.

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