Hollywood counts down to labor cliffhanger

Analysis

Hollywood's actors and studios traded last-minute barbs on Sunday, a day before their film and TV labor pact was due to expire with no announcement of a new three-year deal.

The contract covering 120,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild expires on Monday night at midnight, and that date was widely seen as likely to pass without a settlement or work stoppage, plunging the world's entertainment capital into labor limbo.

In what the union said was a response to media speculation, SAG president Alan Rosenberg said in a statement that it had “taken no steps to initiate a strike authorization vote” and that any speculation was “simply a distraction.”

Such a vote requires at least several weeks to organize, a SAG official said.

Hollywood studios are not waiting. Virtually all film production has shut down, because studios do not want to risk having costly projects halted by a walkout.

“The industry is shutting down because SAG's Hollywood leadership insisted on eleventh-hour negotiations and dragging these talks into July,” said the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the studios' bargaining agent.

SAG countered in a statement that any industry slowdown was “by management's choice not because of negotiations or the expiration of our agreement.”

The alliance has also taken out ads in Monday's issues of the Hollywood trade papers Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter declaring that a strike would be “harmful and unnecessary.”

SAG's contract talks, which began in April, have bogged down on some of the same issues that led Hollywood writers to walk off the job months ago, including disagreements over how union talent should be paid for work created for the Internet.

SAG also has been pressing for an increase in the residual fees actors earn from TV shows and movies sold on DVD, a demand on which the studios have vowed never to budge.

SAG is also waging an offensive on a second front, against its small sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).

AFTRA, which shares 40,000 members with SAG, quickly reached its own deal with the studios. But SAG has launched a campaign against ratification of that pact, claiming that it falls short on many issues and undermines SAG's position.

Since this is Hollywood, the unions have enlisted various A-listers to help their cause. Tom Hanks is among those flying the flag for a “yes” vote, while Jack Nicholson has sided with SAG leadership, and George Clooney has declared that both sides are right. (Reuters)

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