NEW YORK — Directors Guild of America officials, authorized to call the first strike in the union's 51-year history, said Friday that they're going back to the bargaining table but promised that there will be a walkout if management doesn't prove "reasonable."
The threat, which if carried out could badly cripple the motion-picture and TV industry, came from DGA President Gilbert Cates, whose union voted overwhelmingly this week to reject the most recent contract offers by TV and motion-picture producers and the three major TV networks.
The guild's 8,500 members don't want a strike, he said, but "we will unquestionably resort to it if we don't get some more reasonable conversation from our employers." He declined to set a deadline, however.
Carol Akiyama, senior vice president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, with whom the DGA has been negotiating, said that the alliance had not made its final contract offer, even though that was what a DGA spokesman had called it.
She said that the alliance was "somewhat puzzled" that the guild sought and got a strike authorization vote, since her group had not had time to study counterproposals the union had made early Wednesday, just hours before its first membership vote in Los Angeles.
However, she said, "we are looking forward to resuming negotiations this Sunday to continue our brainstorming on the major economic issues that separate us." She referred to a scheduled 10 a.m. (PDT) Sunday session at alliance headquarters in Sherman Oaks, Calif.
Speaking at a news conference at DGA offices here Friday, Cates and other guild officials sounded what is becoming a common theme of entertainment labor: that conglomerates with a bottom-line mentality and no understanding of the problems of entertainment workers have taken over in show business.
Elia Kazan, a veteran director who won an Oscar in 1954 for a classic film about labor, "On the Waterfront," sharply criticized the new breed of corporate executive in Hollywood. He said the moguls of yesteryear, while tough, were far more understanding.
"We all used to make fun of Jack Warner, Harry Cohn and even L. B. Mayer," he said. "But I think those fellows . . . realized how important everybody in a (film) crew was." The new breed, he said, "don't know what the hell picture-making is . . . and the result is a demoralization and anger."
Cates described the situation as a battle between unions and the "greed and desire" of American conglomerates "to wring the very last dollar possible from their businesses at the expense" of those who've spent decades to make "very modest gains" in the industry.
Two contracts talks with the Directors Guild are involved in the current dispute. One with the alliance covers more than 200 film and TV producers, including the major studios--with network officials participating in the negotiations, but not as alliance members.
The second affects about 1,000 staff directors and other DGA members at NBC, CBS and ABC, most of whom work in news and sports, and at the 14 TV stations that those companies own.
Although guild leaders refused to give an East Coast-West Coast breakdown of membership voting, they said that the membership voted 3,294 to 132 against the alliance's proposals, and 602 to 148 against the network proposals in balloting Wednesday and Thursday.
The previous guild contracts expired at midnight Tuesday, but guild members are continuing work, pending developments.
Major issues in the producers' proposals involve reductions in residual payments to directors for films and TV shows that have ancillary sales in the home-video, pay-TV and syndication markets.
The major issues in the network talks, according to Max Schindler, an NBC director and a guild negotiator, include seniority and jurisdiction. He said that the networks are seeking to assign DGA jobs to "non-represented"--that is, non-union--employees.
No new talks with the networks are scheduled, but guild officials said that negotiations probably will resume next week.
"While we're of course disappointed with the vote, we look forward to the next meetings and hope we can resolve this matter with the best interest of each side in mind," said an NBC spokesman here, M. S. (Bud) Rukeyser.
A Directors Guild strike against the networks would doubly hamper NBC, where 2,800 members of the National Assn. of Broadcast Employees and Technicians went on strike Monday after the network put into effect a two-year contract that the union's leaders had rejected.
No new negotiations between NABET and NBC are scheduled, Art Kent, head of the union's New York local, said Friday. He described as "critical" the impact of the Directors Guild negotiations in helping his union when and if new talks with NBC are held.
"If, for example, we get back to the bargaining table before they (the DGA) settle theirs," he said, "yes, it will help us."
But if the directors and the networks resolve their differences before then, he said, "then we're in the same position as we were before. It's not going to make too much difference."
Directors Guild officials, to show solidarity with NABET, have refused interviews with NBC news crews, which formerly were manned by NABET members and now are staffed by management personnel. On Friday, a cameraman and soundman from NBC-owned WNBC-TV here were asked to leave before the guild's news conference began.