SAG, WGA warming up for AMPTP talks

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Let the strategizing begin.

East and West Coast executives of SAG and the WGA huddled at SAG headquarters in Los Angeles on Friday to begin mapping out strategy for the next round of film and TV contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

The WGA is expected to begin talks with AMPTP in July on a new contract for movie and primetime scribes, with the old film and TV pact expiring Oct. 31. Similar producer contracts with the DGA and SAG/AFTRA expire in June 2008.

No representatives of the DGA or AFTRA attended the Friday meeting, sources said, but it wasn't clear whether invitations had been extended to those unions. The DGA tends to be a bit independent, but AFTRA for decades has negotiated jointly with SAG on the all-important film and TV agreement.

One well-placed industryite suggested that AFTRA's absence from the meeting underscores the growing rift between leaders of that union and those at SAG. For years, SAG activists have complained bitterly about AFTRA's organizing of TV segments seen as core to SAG's own activities, and they also grouse that AFTRA tends to settle for lesser terms than SAG in bargaining agreements.

Doug Allen, who started as SAG national executive director in January, said recently that sorting out such issues represents one of his top priorities — even as the unions prepare for the next round of talks.

"SAG has a real nuclear weapon at its disposal against AFTRA," an industry source said. "All they would have to do to exclude AFTRA from the negotiations would be to vote to overturn the so-called Phase One agreement."

For decades, that policy agreement has made AFTRA a bargaining ally of SAG in key talks with the AMPTP.

Meanwhile, SAG and the WGA leaders have grown particularly close over the past couple of years, but all of the unions share concerns in the next round of talks. Perhaps chief among those is how to approach the subject of new-media compensation.

To date, talent is often refused any payment for entertainment content that is re-used over the Internet or on mobile platforms like cell phones, with studios and networks characterizing such uses as promotional and excluded from current collective bargaining agreements. The guilds have been clear about wanting to establish lucrative new minimums guaranteeing payment for all such re-usage.

Other topics sure to figure in the upcoming round of contract negotiations include the evergreen issues of core compensation, producer contributions to health and pension funds and a long-running debate over the current formula for home video residuals. Guilds tried unsuccessfully to get the home video formula improved three years ago in the last round of film and TV talks, and many observers see labor's push for greater new-media compensation as similarly central to the next round of collective bargaining.
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