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A-list stars push for new attempt at SAG contract

Tom Hanks and others help get talks started aimed at bringing the two warring sides back to the bargaining table.

March 12, 2009|Richard Verrier

When Tom Hanks calls, it can be hard to say no.

With the help of Hanks and other A-list stars, the main actors union and the Hollywood studios are quietly taking another whack at ironing out their differences.

Leaders of the Screen Actors Guild have been holding informal talks with studio executives this week in a bid to reopen contract negotiations, people familiar with the talks said.

Hanks and other major actors have called top studio executives, urging them to sit down and resolve their differences with the 120,000-member union. The outreach has had some effect. Several Hollywood executives, including News Corp. President Peter Chernin and Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger, have huddled this week over ways to settle the long-running dispute. Chernin and Iger played a pivotal role in crafting a new contract last year with directors and writers.

The back-channel communications began late last week after the union took a break during its negotiations on a new contract with producers of television commercials. It's unclear, however, whether the talks will lead to a return to formal negotiations between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of the studios. The current SAG contract expired nearly nine months ago.

The conversations are focused on finding a compromise over the key sticking point: the expiration date of the new contract. SAG leaders want the contract to run through June 2011, so they can begin the next round of negotiations at the same time as SAG's sister actors union -- the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists -- and the Writers Guild of America.

SAG believes that bargaining at the same time as the other unions gives the talent guilds leverage. The studios, however, have insisted that SAG's contract run until 2012. That difference led to the latest breakdown in negotiations three weeks ago.

There are signs, however, that the sides may be willing to meet halfway. "The CEOs are actively talking among themselves about a search for a possible solution," said one person familiar with the talks.

The deadlock has been an embarrassment to SAG's new leaders, who were installed by a moderate majority on the union's board that accused former leaders of mishandling negotiations and pushing SAG toward the brink of a strike.

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richard.verrier@latimes.com

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