Actors Union Seeks Strike Vote After Federal Mediation Fails

After two days of mediated talks failed, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is asking members to approve a strike authorization. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), representing some 350 studios and production companies, and the actors guild met face-to-face this past week for the first time in four months. But the talks broke down abruptly Saturday morning, putting the upcoming awards season and film lineup for 2010 into jeopardy. The guild wants jurisdiction over all shows created for the web and a better residual payment structure for new media and DVD sales. But the union, which is 120,000 members strong, is far from a monolithic group. Factions are already calling the union’s leadership into question and suggest more could have been done to move negotiations along. The studios, for their part, have held firm and say they’re only willing to make a deal that matches agreements recently made with writers and directors—nothing more.

All this comes while just earlier this week the writers union reported that gains made in last year’s strike have yet to bear fruit. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) alleged that studios and producers are failing to make good on payments for writers’ work being reused in new media – exactly the sticking point that brought the industry to its knees for four months last winter. The studios claim that their deal with WGA isn’t retroactive, and only applies to films that are initially released in new media after the new contract was signed in February.

LAT: Before the latest talks broke down, the actors guild hinted it would compromise on new media payment terms if the studios agreed to pay actors more for DVD sales. The studios then made some changes to their final offer from four months ago, but the union’s negotiating committee rejected the new proposal in an 11-6 vote. Internal conflict within the union and typically low voter turnout could make it difficult for SAG to get 75 percent to approve a strike if negotiations fail. Moderates recently elected to the guild’s board are also unlikely to call for a strike without an overwhelming mandate from members.

Variety: The federal mediator abandoned negotiations after neither side budged significantly during almost 27 hours of talks at the end of the week. Negotiators spent most of their time reiterating previous positions. When SAG sought approval from its members to hold out for a better deal in September, little more than 10,000 (or just one-twelfth) of its members chimed in, but it got backing from 87 percent. Still, the worsening economy puts into question whether members would give union leadership the same level of support for a strike.

SAG: “We remain committed to avoiding a strike but now more than ever we cannot allow our employers to experiment with our careers. The WGA has already learned that the new media terms they agreed to with the AMPTP are not being honored. We cannot allow our employers to undermine the futures of our members and their families.”

AMPTP: “SAG is the only major Hollywood guild that has failed to negotiate a labor deal in 2008. Now, SAG is bizarrely asking its members to bail out the failed negotiating strategy with a strike vote – at a time of historic economic crisis. The tone deafness of SAG is stunning.”