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Studios give tepid OK for mediator

October 24, 2008|Richard Verrier | Verrier is a Times staff writer.

Four days after actors called for bringing in a federal mediator to resolve stalled contract negotiations, the studios finally delivered a response: OK, but don't expect much.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of the studios, said in a statement Thursday that "we are, of course, willing to meet with a federal mediator in the hopes of achieving our fifth guild agreement this year."

But the alliance also downplayed expectations of a breakthrough, warning that it would be "difficult to reach an agreement if SAG continues to insist unreasonably that it deserves a better deal" than the other contracts negotiated "during far better times."

Screen Actors Guild National Executive Director Doug Allen issued a brief response, saying the union looked forward to all the parties convening "as soon as possible."

The producers' group is expected to meet with federal mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez on Thursday. Gonzalez was involved last year in a mediation between studios and the Writers Guild of America. That effort, however, was unsuccessful and failed to prevent a 100-day strike that ended in February. The mediator's recommendations are not binding.

It's not clear whether Gonzalez, a Hollywood outsider, will have any more success in the current dispute, given how deeply entrenched each side is in its position.

SAG is seeking jurisdiction over all shows created for the Web, regardless of budget, but studios have called the demand a non-starter that would undermine agreements they've reached with three other unions.

Moreover, Allen and other SAG leaders initially dismissed the idea of tapping a federal mediator when it was first suggested by New York board members in August. SAG leaders have been pressing for the union to seek an immediate strike authorization vote from members to boost their leverage in contract talks.

But newly elected moderates on the national board pushed for mediation before taking the more drastic measure of seeking a strike vote.

The studios' decision Thursday was not unexpected given that they would have risked a backlash had they rejected the offer, possibly pushing moderates in SAG to join hard-liners.

Actors have been working without a contract since June 30.

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richard.verrier@latimes.com

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