Mum's the word on Canadian strike action

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TORONTO -- Canada faces a potential actors strike next week but the country's actors' union was tight-lipped Wednesday about a possible work stoppage.

Talks between performers union ACTRA and American producers, the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn. and Quebec producers with the Association de producteurs de films et de television du Quebec remain stalled as the clock winds down on the current Independent Production Agreement, set to expire Dec. 31.

Although back-channel discussions involving the actors and producers are taking place this week, no formal negotiations are scheduled.

Barring an eleventh-hour breakthrough, Canadian actors will be in a legal position to strike in much of the country Jan. 1.

But the actors union was keeping its cards close to the vest Wednesday on possible labor action to back demands at the bargaining table.

"We haven't determined what action we will take in the new year," ACTRA chief negotiator Stephen Waddell said.

He said that ACTRA will return from its Christmas break Jan. 2, and may make an announcement then on possible strike plans.

Waddell added that ACTRA is in a legal strike position in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, but still has to pursue mediation in Nova Scotia, Alberta and Newfoundland before it cam legally strike in those provinces.

In most Canadian provinces, conciliation is a mandatory step before unions can put themselves in a legal strike position. That process could take until Jan. 15 to complete, Waddell said.

For their part, Canadian producers are not expecting a wildcat strike next week.

"There's some noise and protest, but I don't think they (ACTRA) will strike," CFTPA chief negotiator John Barrack said Wednesday.

The producers' representative envisions ACTRA targeting a movie for labor action, or picketing the CFTPA's headquarters.

"What would surprise me if they tried to pull their membership out of work," he added.

In a domestic industry largely sustained by U.S. production, nothing concentrates the minds of Canadian talent and production crews like the prospect of major studios shifting their big-budget projects elsewhere to avoid an industry shutdown.

To ease any possible disruption from a work stoppage, ACTRA has offered letters of continuation to producers currently involved in film and TV shoots in Canada to continue past Dec. 31 if they agree to the 5% wage increase that the actors union is seeking at the bargaining table.

Meanwhile, talks on a new IPA remain at an impasse after the performers last week rejected a proposed 4% wage increase over three years. The offer required concessions on new media, lifestyle/reality programming and low-budget Canadian dramas.
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