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Screen Extras Facing Tough Decision on New Contract

November 14, 1986|HENRY WEINSTEIN | Times Labor Writer

A dispute over major concessions in a new contract proposal governing the actors who fill out crowd scenes in movies and television shows is exposing deep divisions in the 6,700-member Screen Extras Guild (SEG).

The conflict also is reviving old struggles within the 60,000-member Screen Actors Guild (SAG), which represents actors with speaking roles in movies and television.

Leaders of the Screen Extras Guild have urged their members to accept the concessionary contract on the grounds that a rejection would force the union into a strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that the guild cannot win.

But some members are so dismayed by the concessions--which include wage cuts and relaxation of rules governing hiring of non-union extras--that they were picketing in front of the Screen Actors Guild headquarters Wednesday night and urging their fellow extras to vote to reject the pact in mail balloting now under way.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 16, 1986 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
In a story published Friday, The Times incorrectly reported the deadline for mail ballots on a new contract between the Screen Extras Guild and the Alliance of Motion and Television Producers. In fact, they must be sent in by Dec. 2.

Seeking Support

The pickets also were seeking the support of SAG and protesting some SAG members who, led by actor Charlton Heston, have twice blocked a merger of the two unions.

The dispute is another example of how Hollywood union members are increasingly faced with the same sort of take-away demands as workers in other sectors of the economy. And the situation illustrates how producers of unionized films are making a concerted effort to cut costs to meet what they say are growing competitive pressures from non-union operators.

The new contract calls for deep cuts in basic daily wages for extras, who earn $91 a day under the contract that was extended when it expired last month. Under the proposed contract, extras would be paid $68 for an eight-hour work day or $54 for a six-hour shift.

Double-time pay on weekends would be eliminated and extras also would have to work more hours to qualify for overtime.

Numbers Reduced

Another concession reduces the minimum number of guild members who must be hired as extras on film and television productions. Currently, the first 125 extras hired by a film company must be members. Extras hired after that may be non-union. Under the proposed contract, only the first 40 extras must be in the guild. In television production, the first 75 extras hired now must be in the guild. That would be reduced to 30 under the new contract.

Non-union extras typically receive $35 a day. Industry sources say that producers are seeking to reduce costs because of the burgeoning number of films being made by independent companies and television networks using non-union personnel.

The producers were not the only subject of protest at the demonstrations. Drawing almost as much fire was Heston, a former president of the Screen Actors Guild.

The extras' guild has historically been the weakest of the Hollywood unions and its position was further eroded in the summer during negotiations over a new contract for the Screen Actors Guild, several of the protesters said. The Screen Actors Guild represents extras in New York and other Eastern cities. Although the West Coast unions have remained separate, typically contract negotiations have been consolidated.

But in July, Heston, leader of SAG's conservative wing, told the union's negotiators that if they tried to make agreements for the extras as part of their negotiations he would encourage SAG members not to support a strike. All discussion of Hollywood extras issues was then dropped from the talks, according to negotiators.

"Charlton Heston never talks as Moses, the protector of the small man," said extra Jerome Blackwell on the picket line. "He talks as a producer. It's incredible to me that a millionaire like him doesn't want me to be able to feed my baby."

'I Quite Understand'

Heston was unruffled by the criticism. "I quite understand their making an issue out of my position," he said in a telephone interview Thursday. "I regret that they have been unable to negotiate a better contract, but they were protesting in front of the wrong union headquarters. The (Screen Actors) Guild has rejected a merger with SEG twice."

Several prominent actors, including former SAG president Ed Asner, as well as Ed Begley Jr., Elliot Gould and Kate Jackson, went out to show their support for the extras.

"It's the little guys being stepped on as usual," Gould said. "It's essential for the Screen Actors Guild to support the extras."

Mail ballots on the new contract must be sent in by Dec. 5, according to Alan Craig, SEG vice president. If the contract does not receive the required 51% for approval, the producers could simply implement the terms of their proposal, leaving the extras with worsened conditions and no contract, according to industry sources.

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