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Writers, Producers Urged to Negotiate

March 06, 1985|JAY SHARBUTT and MICHAEL LONDON | Times Staff Writers

Acting just hours after the Writers Guild of America struck the television and movie industry Tuesday, a federal mediator in Los Angeles asked both sides to meet with him today in an effort to avoid a long and costly walkout.

Nicholas J. Counter III, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, will attend the 3 p.m. meeting, a spokesman said. The guild's negotiating committee will consider the mediator's request this morning and announce its decision then, a guild spokesman said.

The guild leadership, which has accused the alliance of stonewalling on an acceptable contract, filed a complaint Tuesday afternoon with the National Labor Relations Board, charging the alliance with refusing to bargain in good faith on a new three-year contract.

The alliance, representing the networks, major studios and TV and film producers, denied the charge.

Today's mediation effort was requested by Commissioner Leonard Farrell of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Board. He said that if the meeting occurs, it will deal directly with "the issues that separate the two sides."

The issues include health and welfare benefits for guild members and creative and credit rights for writers. They also involve an especially emotional dispute over the division of royalties from the billion-dollar market for prerecorded videocassettes.

"They were never prepared to negotiate," Naomi Gurian, the guild's executive director said of the alliance during a press conference Monday night. "In effect, they kicked us out," she said, hoping to seduce guild members with an inadequate contract.

She reiterated her contention that the alliance wants to punish the guild for its aggressive pursuit of a lawsuit that led to the appointment by a federal judge of an arbiter--agreed on by both sides--to hear and resolve separately the videocassette dispute.

Charles Weisenberg, a spokesman for the alliance, denied Gurian's accusation. Arbitration of the videocassette matter "is a right they (guild officials) have, and we've never questioned that at all," he said.

At issue is whether guild members should get their percentage of earnings from videocassettes from the producers' gross or from the much larger distributors' gross. The guild contends that it is owed 1.2% of the latter.

Arbitration of that dispute--with Paramount Studios as the test case--began Monday in Los Angeles. Weisenberg said that only procedural steps are being discussed now and that the arbitration "won't get into substantive matters until the week of March 25."

In a brief interview Tuesday, Counter denied guild accusations of bad-faith bargaining by his group.

"During the course of 2 1/2 months of negotiations, we dealt with over 271 guild proposals," he said. "In the course of those negotiations we made numerous offers and compromised on substantial portions of their proposals. In our view, the (guild) charges are wholly frivolous and reckless."

No new negotiations are scheduled, according to guild and alliance officials. Their contract talks ended at midnight Thursday, when the guild's old three-year contract expired. A majority of guild members here and in New York voted to reject the alliance's "best and final" offer and go on strike.

The networks' prime-time programs are not immediately affected by the strike. If the walkout lasts longer than a week, the first to feel the effects of a walkout may be the networks' daily soap operas, which generally tape one or two weeks in advance. The episodes are not rerun.

Theatrical film production, which has longer preparation periods than prime-time television programming, would not feel the effect for several months. If the walkout lasts longer than that, films scheduled for release in 1986 probably would be delayed.

Although Gurian said over the weekend that guild picket lines probably would go up around television and movie studios on Thursday, a guild spokesman, Mickey Freeman, said picketing has been delayed until Tuesday.

He said the postponement will give strike leaders more time to organize picket lines and make assignments.

There are opposing views about the impact of the strike on soap operas. Calendar, Part VI.

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