Studios, SAG Still Can’t Agree

LOS ANGELES After a five-hour meeting between the Screen Actors Guild and the studios Thursday, Hollywood is basically back where it started when talks began on April 15: without a new actors contract.

The studios said Thursday that SAG officially rejected their final offer. The guild insists that just isn’t so.

“The refusal of SAG’s Hollywood leadership to accept this offer is the latest in a series of actions by SAG leaders that puts labor peace at risk,” the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said in a strongly worded statement after talks broke off just before 7:30 p.m. The studios said the guild was “unreasonably” seeking more than other unions and that they’re not interested in further negotiations.

“We believe the bargaining is continuing,” SAG president Alan Rosenberg countered in a terse statement that reflected a diametrically opposed interpretation of the meeting at the AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

“We did not reject their offer,” SAG’s chief negotiator Doug Allen said. “We made a comprehensive counterproposal that adopted some of their proposals and offered alternatives on others.”

A studio source said the counterproposal contained dozens of changes to the AMPTP’s offer, including a continued push for more DVD residuals, product integration proposals and new-media residuals.

“These counterproposals could’ve been done over the last five weeks,” AMPTP spokesman Jesse Hiestand said. “SAG wasted the last five weeks fighting with [sister union] AFTRA.”

Allen said he would not discuss the particular proposals anywhere but at the bargaining table with the AMPTP.

“We’re disappointed with SAG not accepting our final offer, and we’re calling on SAG to have its membership vote on the final offer,” Hiestand said.

A SAG spokeswoman said it’s not up to the studios to decide how and when SAG’s members should ratify a contract.

No new talks were scheduled.

In a two-sentence statement, SAG said its negotiating committee members presented the AMPTP with their response to the producers’ proposal and that its bargaining committee would meet today to discuss the AMPTP’s response.

The conflicting views of what transpired Thursday are not the result of a misunderstanding. Rather, they reflect the two sides’ strategic jockeying as they try to bring their increasingly acrimonious talks to an endgame.

If the two sides reach an impasse, the studios have the right to impose all or part of their final offer on the guild, which is working without a contract. Thus, it’s now very much in the studios’ interest to declare the talks deadlocked.

The guild can avoid imposed conditions as long as bargaining is continuing.

Early in the afternoon SAG officials delivered a roughly 30-minute formal response to the studios so-called “last, best and final” offer, and the two sides then peeled off into a series of private caucuses and sidebar meetings.

News crews milled about outside AMPTP headquarters, but neither side issued any indication of how talks were proceeding.

It was the groups’ first face-to-face sit-down since AFTRA’s members ratified their contract Tuesday. It’s also the fourth major labor negotiation that the AMPTP has been caught up in during the past nine months.

Actress Connie Stevens, who is on the SAG negotiating board, was spotted smiling outside the proceedings late in the afternoon catching a breath of fresh air.

“There’s always talking and room for understanding, and we’re doing our best,” she said. “There’s great people on both sides, a lot of dedicated people on both sides, and I’m optimistic.”

Her optimism, however, was mixed with some frustration, as she said she couldn’t understand how “people can get stuck on the smallest things and smallest amounts that a couple of years ago I would have pitched in and paid for myself.”