Canadian actors union mails out strike ballots

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TORONTO -- Canada's actors union on Wednesday began mailing out ballots for a national strike mandate to support ongoing talks with North American producers on a new labor deal.

Stephen Waddell, chief negotiator for ACTRA, which represents 21,000 domestic performers, said the strike mandate is designed to give producers a wake-up call.

"What we want to do is get a collective bargaining deal. And the only way it appears that the (Canadian Film and Television Production Assn.) negotiating committee will listen to us is if we are in a strong position to take strike action," he said. "They are apparently not taking us seriously now."

ACTRA, American producers, the CFTPA and Quebec producers affiliated with the Association de producteurs de films et de television du Quebec (APFTQ), are now girding themselves for crunch talks in mid-December to avert a strike or lockout once the current Independent Production Agreement expires Dec. 31.

Both sides in the dispute met Tuesday in Toronto but made little apparent progress at the bargaining table.

The producers withdrew a demand that the performer's turnaround time go from the current 11 hours to 10 hours. The actors responded that maintaining the status quo hardly signaled a major concession.

On the thorny issue of new media compensation, the producers proposed back-end payments to performers when broadband video, mobisodes or other digital media in which they appear are used. The actors contend the producers are still seeking Internet rights without payment and are considering denying them jurisdiction over digital media.

CFTPA chief negotiator John Barrack said he will comply with current mediation attempts urged by ACTRA, but contended the actors union appeared bent on confrontation rather than negotiation and compromise.

"It appears that ACTRA's strategy is designed to move this situation towards a crisis by once again demanding the removal of all our proposals without engaging in a frank and open dialogue to address their concerns, as well as holding a strike vote with its members," Barrack said.

The actors and producers have agreed to additional bargaining dates Dec. 12-15 and Dec. 18-20 to work out a new deal.

Any return to the bargaining table will come as anxiety within the wider Canadian industry grows over the possibility of an industry shutdown.

Toronto-based Don Carmody ("Chicago") said he may have to soon shift one movie shoot scheduled for Montreal and Winnipeg to Vancouver to avoid disruption from a possible ACTRA strike.

He said actor-producer friction was unwelcome coming so soon after IATSE local 873 brought labor peace to Toronto by ratifying a new agreement for work on theatrical movies, TV MOWs and series. That deals runs through March 31, 2009.

"It's been a very poor year in Montreal and Toronto and it seems when we finally have some labor peace in Toronto, now this starts," Carmody said.

Ken Ferguson, president of Toronto Film Studios, a major studio operator, said he saw no immediate signs of U.S. producers delaying or re-routing projects due to the difficult IPA talks, but insisted the prospect of an actors strike figured in calculations.

"If any producers were holding off, it had a lot to do with that (IATSE 873)," Ferguson said. "Now the question is will they come to Toronto after the IATSE agreement has been ratified, or hold off until the ACTRA agreement is finalized."
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