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SAG talks collapse as studios hold firm

After just three days, negotiations falter over the start date and duration of the actors' contract. No new talks are scheduled.

February 20, 2009|Richard Verrier

Negotiations between actors and the Hollywood studios broke down Thursday night, dashing high hopes for a quick resolution in a stalemate that has kept the union's 120,000 members working without a new contract for seven months.

The Screen Actors Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which negotiates on behalf of the studios, ended talks after just three days. No further talks are scheduled.

Actors' optimism that a new contract would be quickly hammered out swelled after moderates on the SAG board mounted a rebellion last month against the leadership, firing the union's executive director and installing a new negotiating team led by SAG consultant John McGuire.

Directors had complained that former chief negotiator Doug Allen mishandled talks and vowed to move swiftly toward a deal.

But those efforts appear to have been thwarted by a tougher-than-expected bargaining posture by studios, which are increasingly impatient as their own businesses are squeezed by a deep recession, said people close to the talks.

Unlike their predecessors, the new SAG negotiators indicated that they were prepared to accept the studios' long-standing demand to accept a new-media pay framework already agreed to by three other Hollywood unions.

In return, the studios offered some "tweaks" to their previous "final offer," agreeing, for example, to drop a proposal that would have eliminated scheduled meal breaks. They also offered to increase from two to five the number of background performers who would be covered under the contract and provide residual payments for stunt coordinators.

Such concessions, however, weren't enough to break an impasse over the seemingly mundane issues of when the contract would go into effect and how long it would last.

SAG wanted proposed pay increases for actors to be retroactive to July 1, 2008. Studios, however, said they couldn't afford that as their profits plunge in a worsening economy.

The union also insisted that a new contract extend for two years instead of the usual three years so that its expiration would align with that of other Hollywood unions, which would give all the unions more leverage in future negotiations.

The studios said a two-year pact would create instability. SAG rejected their alternative.

Nonetheless, the negotiating team is obligated to present the studios' final offer to the SAG board. It will do that Saturday. But the board is expected to reject the offer.


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