Arbitration next step in Canada strike

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TORONTO -- Canada's actors strike is headed to formal arbitration after two days of talks between ACTRA and North American producers broke off Thursday without an agreement.

Mediators Elizabeth MacPherson and Richard Champagne failed to end the impasse over payment terms for new-media work during negotiations Wednesday and Thursday in Toronto between ACTRA, representing 21,000 actors, and American producers, the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn. and the Association de producteurs de films et de television du Quebec.

Both sides in the talks considered various payment formulas for new-media product, including ACTRA members receiving an advance against royalties equal to 1% of pay a year for five years of use.

But the 5% buyout offer from the producers is conditional on no wage increase for ACTRA members during the first year of a new labor deal, and 3% wage increases in each of the second and third years of a new contract.

For its part, ACTRA has proposed a 9% wage increase over three years, an additional 1% annual increase for retirement benefits and an advance against royalties for new-media rights.

Negotiators on both sides said they narrowed their differences on digital-media compensation during this week's mediated talks but that no firm agreement was possible.

"Our view is we have a generous offer on the table," CFTPA chief negotiator John Barrack said late Thursday en route to the Berlin International Film Festival.

But Stephen Waddell, ACTRA's chief negotiator, said the 5% buyout offer represented only a "token" payment and that more was required before an overall labor deal is possible.

"They did put some money on the table for digital media, but not enough," Waddell said before repeating a call for the thorny issue of digital-media rights to be spun off into separate sidebar negotiations so that a new Independent Production Agreement could be hammered out on all remaining wage and workplace issues.

Separate contract negotiations last week in Vancouver between the Union of British Columbia Performers, representing provincial actors, and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers similarly stalled on the issue of payment formulas for new-media product.

MacPherson has invited both sides to negotiate further by telephone next week. ACTRA negotiators expressed frustration that Barrack leaving the country prevented continued face-to-face negotiations in the coming days.

The focus of Canada's actors strike will shift to arbitration on Feb. 19, when Marilyn Nairn, a former Ontario Labor Relations Board executive, is expected to rule on the legality of ACTRA's labor action and its use of continuation letters.

Ten days ago, the CFTPA secured an order from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice for arbitration and is hoping Nairn will restrain ACTRA from using the continuation letters to prolong its strike, now in its fourth week. The letters spare producer signatories picketing or other on-set disruptions in return for a 7% wage increase on struck film and TV sets.

The letters so far have produced a strike without work stoppages.
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