H'wood holds its breath as talks kick off

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Negotiators for SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers sat down for the first time Tuesday to begin what is expected to be two weeks of intense talks on the actors union contract, which expires June 30.

The talks come at a crucial time, with the industry still recovering from the 100-day WGA strike. The threat of protracted negotiations — and the possibility of an actors strike — already has caused studios to scale back production schedules for film and TV.

Among the issues the union — led by chief negotiator Doug Allen and president Alan Rosenberg — brought to the table are residuals on new media, more money for DVD/home video and changes to health and pension benefits. Nick Counter heads the AMPTP negotiating team.

The first day of bargaining began at 10 a.m. at AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks. When the talks concluded in late afternoon, the sides issued a terse joint statement.

"The Screen Actors Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers held a full day of meetings today and exchanged proposals. We will meet again tomorrow at 10 a.m. We have no further comment at this time."

The negotiations mark the first time SAG has sat down with the AMPTP without fellow performers union AFTRA.

Three weeks ago, AFTRA voted to suspend its Phase One joint bargaining agreement with SAG. On Monday, AFTRA rejected SAG's last-ditch attempt to have a united front at the bargaining table.

AFTRA, however, had two observers at the negotiations, as is standard for unions who will be bargaining with the same employers. SAG, for example, sat in on talks between the WGA and AMPTP, and SAG is invited to sit on the talks between AFTRA and the AMPTP, scheduled to begin April 28.

SAG, which represents 120,000 members, and the AMPTP are negotiating a new three-year deal covering movies and primetime television.

Both sides plan to meet through Saturday, picking up again Monday and continuing through April 26.

As AFTRA waits for its turn at the table, the union has sent out a letter to its members urging them to ratify the new Network TV Code, which covers 70% of the hours programmed on the four major networks and the CW. It excludes primetime dramas, which was part of the Phase One agreement with SAG.

"Members will realize big gains from this new agreement with the four major networks and producers," the letter stated. "The new Network Code will provide solid increases in program fees, more funding for our health and retirement plans, address working conditions affecting almost every category of performer and give jurisdiction and compensation to AFTRA members in the world of new media."

If ratified, the new contract will give members up to 3.5% in program fees, retroactive to Nov. 16.

The letter included endorsements of the new code from several members, including "One Life to Live" actress Hillary B. Smith, "Beverly Hills, 90210" alum Gabrielle Carteris and singer Frank Simms.

SAG's first day of negotiations came on the first day of a three-day labor solidarity march, which started along the Miracle Mile and will end at the docks in San Pedro. Among those marching are SAG and AFTRA members.
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