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HomeNewsIATSE to Start Talks, But SAG/AFTRA Split Threatens Labor Peace

IATSE to Start Talks, But SAG/AFTRA Split Threatens Labor Peace

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A bitter turf battle between the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and a decision in late March by AFTRA to go it alone in negotiations with the studios has thrown a monkey wrench into Hollywood’s hope for a settlement well before the present actors contract expires on June 30.

The prospect of complex dual-track negotiations with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which could try to play off SAG and AFTRA, is heightening concerns in Hollywood of another walkout following the stressful 15-week writers’ strike that straddled 2007 and 2008.

In stark contrast, a negotiating team for the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees is expected to sit down with representatives of the studios on April 7 for several days of talks, even though the IA’s Basic Agreement doesn’t expire until August 2009, or 16 months from now. The three-year agreement covers 18 Hollywood guilds with 25,000 below-the-line members. Under IA president Tom Short, the pattern has been to bargain with AMPTP well before contract expiration, based on the idea that IATSE can do better by avoiding brinksmanship.

The decision to start negotiating this early is predicated on an understanding to narrow the issues that will be under discussion. “New media and health care are on the table, and we’ve agreed that other issues should be barred,” one IA official told Below the Line. “I don’t expect a prolonged set of negotiations,” he added.

The IA also hopes to avoid a repetition of what happened 20 years ago when, after a 5-1/2 month strike by writers, the IA was unable to get a strike vote from its own members for immediately pending contract talks. “We do not want to allow ourselves to be put in the same position as in 1988, when we took some pretty big hits because we were not bargaining from a position of strength,” said the official.

The IA will try to incorporate gains achieved by the WGA as well as by the Directors Guild of America on residuals for their members for content that is redistributed on new technology platforms like the internet and cell phones. Residuals for below-the- line guilds don’t get paid out individually but are used to sustain existing union health and pension benefit plans. “We’re going in early to secure residuals and jurisdiction for new media, and apply it based on the contract models that already exist for us,” according to the IA source.

SAG and AFTRA in late March seemed to have gotten their act together, announcing they had reached common ground on the contract demands they would jointly submit to AMPTP. But just when the executive boards of the two organizations were set to meet to affirm this deal, AFTRA balked and accused SAG of trying to poach upon its turf. A letter from AFTRA national president Roberta Reardon to members accused SAG of violating “all norms of union solidarity.”

SAG president Alan Rosenberg responded to AFTRA charges that his union was looking for a strike: “Nobody wants a strike, especially after the 100- day WGA strike.” Nevertheless, Rosenberg has refused to take “the strike weapon off the table.”

Even without the AFTRASAG split, the upcoming talks are sure to be complicated. Both unions, whose memberships largely overlap, are looking to improve on the “new media” gains achieved by the WGA and DGA in their contract talks. They are also looking to increase the residuals they receive from DVD sales, a demand the WGA withdrew.

In the wake of the settlement reached between the writers’ guild and the studios, pressure has been building for the actors to start talks well before their contract deadline expires at the end of June. A strike by actors could be even more devastating for movie and television production, potentially shutting Hollywood down.

“As the national economy continues to weaken, there is little doubt that another work stoppage within the industry would have devastating economic effects,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared in a statement. He noted that the economic toll of the WGA strike on the overall economy at around $2.5 billion. “I urge all involved to get the deals done expeditiously,” he added. “We must keep this town working and avoid devastating effects on the workers, businesses, residents and economy of this great city.”

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