After a meeting marked by bitter debate, an unexpected refusal to accept their leaders' recommendations and the delay of a final contract vote, Hollywood writers began the second week of their strike against film and television producers on Tuesday.
Ernest Lehman, president of the Writers Guild of America, said the strike could prove a long one.
His prediction was made just hours after the jam-packed, stormy Monday night meeting of Los Angeles Guild members at the Hollywood Palladium, where a final vote on the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers' proposed new contract was postponed until another meeting there next Monday.
"What happened was, the membership sent us a loud and clear signal that they were ready to take a strong, perhaps a long strike, in order to get a better contract," Lehman said of the Los Angeles meeting, which the guild says was attended by between 2,500 and 3,000 members.
He said, however, that he is not forecasting a rejection of the proposed contract when West Coast guild members meet again next week.
The most immediate effect of the delay in final voting and the continuation of the strike was to cause NBC to air reruns of "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," "Late Night With David Letterman" and "Saturday Night Live."
Producers of those shows had planned to resume production. NBC's "The Cosby Show," "Hill Street Blues" and "Sara" were to have resumed shooting if guild members had gone along with the organization's recommendation to approve the contract offer.
The producers' alliance, with which guild negotiators reached a tentative contract agreement Friday after more than 16 hours of nonstop bargaining, expressed disappointment Tuesday about the inconclusive guild membership meeting.
Naomi Gurian guild executive secretary; Nicholas J. Counter III, alliance president, and federal mediator Leonard Farrell, who helped work out the tentative agreement, will meet today at 10 a.m., according to a guild spokesman.
The guild said its members will begin picketing Friday for the first time since the strike began. Picketing will be conducted from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at CBS Television City, Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.
The delay in the final vote occurred after a number of guild members at Monday's session assailed the proposed contract and, in some cases, criticized negotiators for agreeing to recommend approval of the contract as part of the tentative settlement reached with the alliance.
The co-chairman of the guild's 17-member negotiating committee, Frank Pierson, said some guild members erroneously interpreted the negotiators' favorable recommendation as yielding to "some form of management coercion."
Pierson said 14 of the guild negotiators had simply agreed to recommend adoption of what he called "a package that was sufficiently improved over what the membership had rejected" on March 1 in Los Angeles.
The guild, which went on strike for 13 weeks in 1981, says it has about 7,100 members eligible to vote, 5,100 in Los Angeles and the rest in New York. About 182 East Coast guild members voted on the contract Monday night, but the New York chapter withheld results of that vote pending a tally of ballots cast in Los Angeles.
Before Monday night's West Coast membership meeting, guild officials had predicted that the Los Angeles guild members would quickly approve the three-year contract offered by the alliance.
As the meeting wore on, however, a rank-and-file rebellion erupted, with many members changing their minds, urging rejection of the contract and, in at least 20 cases, tearing up their ballots in favor of the contract and asking for new ones to oppose the pact.
Because of that and because of the fact that an unknown number of members cast ballots early and left the meeting--but could conceivably want to change their votes--guild officers sought and got approval to recess the meeting until next Monday.
At a press conference Tuesday, Lehman denied that guild leaders had miscalculated the membership's mood. he said when the West Coast members voted to walkout a week ago, 60% supported the strike.
That was on "a much smaller deal," Lehman said, referring to the previous contract offer. Guild negotiators believe that the new contract offer is "considerably improved."
"Yet last night the membership seemed to say absolutely not," he said.
He said the guild's attempt to resolve a major issue in the strike--its percentage of profits from the billion-dollar market for videocassettes--drew the lion's share of complaints from members at Monday's four-hour meeting.
They were "most unhappy," he said, about the guild's tentative agreement to give up arbitration on videocassette profits from 1973 to Feb. 28, 1985, when the guild's old contract expired. The arbitration, he said, is continuing.
John Horn contributed to this story.