SAG talks in second week as AFTRA ponders options

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As SAG and the majors enter their second week of talks, there are a lot of questions and not too many answers about what has happened behind the closed doors at the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers headquarters in Sherman Oaks.

Although there is no press blackout, SAG and the AMPTP have kept mum on what has transpired during the first week of formal talks, issuing only terse statements that the sides met and will return to the bargaining table.

Talks resume today at 10 a.m. and will continue through Saturday.

Even some who were privy to the negotiations between the producers and the WGA have been kept out of the loop.

"They're being very careful about protecting their confidences," said one industry figure who asked to not be named. "I think both sides are doing what they should be doing, which is honoring their mutual pledge to 'Let's just talk to each other and not the rest of the world.' "

The virtual silence is in sharp contrast to the initial negotiations that took place between the WGA and AMPTP. Almost on a daily basis, there were statements issued by both sides pointing the finger at the other for not bargaining fairly. The tense talks eventually broke down, leading to the 100-day writers strike.

On Friday, SAG and AFTRA met in separate caucuses before resuming talks in the afternoon. Veteran labor attorney Alan Brunswick suggested that could be a signal that progress is being made.

"It means they had something to think about that the other side put across the table to think about and discuss," said Brunswick, who has represented talent and producers in labor-related issues. "So, hopefully that means they're both talking and being civil, and hopefully they're making some progress."

SAG has until Saturday to cut a kind of deal with the AMPTP before its sister union, AFTRA, sits down April 28 with the majors to negotiate its primetime TV contract.

AFTRA's national board voted last month to end its 27-year joint bargaining agreement with SAG on the primetime contract, which they share jurisdiction over, and negotiate on its own with the AMPTP.

If SAG makes significant strides this week with the AMPTP, several scenarios could play out. AFTRA, which has had two of its members observing SAG talks, could agree to let SAG continue with its negotiations if they're close to a deal.

Or, they could decide to start their talks on time. AFTRA already has inked a deal on its Network Code with the major network AMPTP members. Because of that, both sides could have short discussions and apply what was agreed upon in the Network Code to the primetime contract.

"AFTRA can get through this much faster than SAG can," Brunswick said. "If they can't, AFTRA can step aside and let SAG continue or they can say, 'No, we want to get this done.' It depends on how aggressive they can be. It all comes down to the politics between the two unions."

Separate but simultaneous talks with the AMPTP and the two actors unions is a less likely possibility.

"It would be mentally exhausting because after a while you can't remember who you're in the room with," Brunswick said. "Anything is possible, but I think that's unlikely."

An AMPTP spokesman declined comment.

The ramifications of AFTRA negotiating its own primetime contract are that it could expand the performers union's jurisdiction into that area. SAG represents the majority of primetime TV shows, while AFTRA represents three primetime shows and many pilots.

On the film side, with the June 30 expiration date on the actors contract looming, many of the majors have been stockpiling projects and not starting any features after that date for fear of an actors strike.

SAG has offered no-strike agreements to indie production companies who can prove their projects are not financed or distributed by the majors. Last week, indie producer the Film Department was the first to announce it had agreements with SAG on nine projects set to begin production in the spring and summer.
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