Canada talks in limbo after ACTRA rebuff

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Labor talks between North American producers and Canada's actors union have broken down after performers rejected a proposed 4% wage increase over three years.

No new talks are scheduled between ACTRA, which represents 21,000 performers, and representatives for American producers, the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn. and Quebec producers associated with the Association de producteurs de films et de television du Quebec before the current Independent Production Agreement expires Dec. 31.

If the negotiating stalemate continues, ACTRA is poised to put pending U.S. film and TV shoots in Canada in doubt by launching Canada's first-ever actors strike early next month.

The impasse follows Canadian and American producers, including a host of Hollywood studio representatives, putting their first wage proposals for a new labor deal with ACTRA on the table late Wednesday in Toronto.

The actors were offered a 1% wage increase in the first year, a 2% increase in the second year and a 1% increase in the third year of a new agreement.

The pay proposal was part of an omnibus offer placed before ACTRA on Wednesday that included incentives for more labor-intensive homegrown Canadian dramas, or low-budget indigenous projects; proposals for hiring ACTRA members on reality or lifestyle series, which traditionally have been nonunion; and easing discrimination against background performers industrywide.

But ACTRA bargainers immediately rejected the wage proposal, especially as it called on the actors to forgo any pay increase on U.S. runaway film and TV shoots during the first year of a new agreement and on select Canadian shoots during the first two years of a new IPA deal.

ACTRA chief negotiator Stephen Waddell rejected the producers' pay proposal as inadequate and gave a thumbs-down to contract demands on new-media residuals that included no apparent payment for the actors.

"We're not going to give away the future for free. And we are not going to let our members' pay continue to erode compared to other performers in North America," Waddell said after the talks broke off.

CFTPA chief negotiator John Barrack defended the wage increase proposal, insisting that it was the same pay increase offered and agreed to by the Writers Guild of Canada in May and more generous than a separate wage increase recently agreed upon by the Directors Guild of Canada.

Barrack added that the Hollywood studios demanded the one-year lag before any wage increase kicked in for Canadian actors owing to competition from rival jurisdictions, including Eastern Europe and southern U.S. states, that offer similar tax credits and other lucrative subsidies to studios shooting locally.

At one point during tense negotiations late Wednesday, Dean Ferris, vp labor relations at Fox Broadcasting, told ACTRA that it needed to provide concessions and incentives for major studios to continue shooting in Canada. Otherwise, they would take their projects elsewhere.

"If they don't want us to bring work to Canada, we'll go home. No fight, no problem," Ferris said Thursday.

Also taking part in the labor talks in Toronto on Wednesday were representatives for ABC/Touchstone, CBS Television, NBC Universal, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures and Warner Bros. Television — all of whom are eyeing Canada in a bid to stockpile product ahead of a possible WGA strike in November.

But Waddell said talk of incentives for footloose studios was "ludicrous," adding that the cost to Los Angeles producers to hire secondary Canadian actors for their runaway shoots was minimal.

Despite the breakdown in talks, both sides expressed hope that a settlement could be reached in time to avert an industry shutdown and said they would be willing to return to the bargaining table.

But the producers and actors also were preparing at week's end for possible industrial action.

Barrack said the producers would approach the courts and provincial labor boards to declare any possible Canadian actors strike illegal.

Waddell countered that ACTRA already was in a legal strike position in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. He added that the actors union was pursuing conciliation in Nova Scotia and Alberta early next month to ensure it was in a legal strike position in those provinces at some point next month.

A possible ACTRA strike would not affect British Columbia, where producers have a separate labor deal with actors aligned with the Union of British Columbia Performers.

The UBCP leadership already has urged its membership not to work on film and TV projects that might shift to Vancouver to avoid a potential work stoppage in the rest of Canada. But Barrack insisted that Vancouver-based performers were unlikely to support their ACTRA colleagues and instead will choose to profit from the slew of production likely to come their way should industrial action occur.

Also complicating matters for producers is ACTRA having offered continuation letters to film and TV producers so they can continue shooting in the rest of Canada in the event of a work stoppage. The CFTPA has complained that ACTRA is attempting to divide its membership with the letters.
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