AFTRA keeps the window open

Union postpones its talks, gives SAG an extra week

AFTRA is giving SAG an extra week.

Whether that's more time to hang itself or to produce an upbeat Hollywood ending to the town's long-running labor drama remains to be seen.

SAG has been in talks with the Alliance of Motion Pictures & Television Producers since April 15, trying to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement to replace a pact set to expire June 30. Yet there seemed scant chance of that happening before Monday, when AFTRA was scheduled to start its own contract talks with the AMPTP.

That had industryites abuzz, speculating over what might happen if SAG was forced to put its talks on hold while the studio group turned its attention to AFTRA. But AFTRA said Wednesday that it has agreed to an AMPTP request to delay the start of AFTRA's negotiations one week.

"At the request of the AMPTP, AFTRA has agreed to postpone the commencement of its primetime television negotiations until May 5," AFTRA said. "The AFTRA negotiating committee would like to give the negotiations already under way between the AMPTP and the Screen Actors Guild a chance to succeed. And while AFTRA is ready to begin negotiations now, we believe we can best serve our members' interests by briefly postponing our negotiations. AFTRA remains focused on achieving important gains for our members."

It's unclear how SAG might react if it fails to reach a deal with the AMPTP by the new deadline and studio reps launch separate talks with AFTRA. SAG and AFTRA have been squabbling for months over jurisdictional issues, so even a quick AFTRA agreement might not prevent SAG from preparing to strike once its contract elapses.

Still, most took the news of the week's extension in the SAG-AMPTP talks as a good sign. At least one seasoned negotiations-watcher even speculated that SAG was being "rewarded" for showing new flexibility behind closed doors in the negotiating room.

Jonathan Handel, a TroyGould entertainment attorney and a former WGA West associate counsel, noted a couple of high-profile demands — expanded DVD residuals and sweeter Internet terms than recently secured by writers and directors — were missing in a membership missive posted Tuesday by SAG president Alan Rosenberg, which listed issues of interest to "middle class actors."

"DVD and new media were conspicuous by their absence in the negotiations update SAG released yesterday," Handel said. "That signals that those items, which were key items, have been taken off the table, because there is no other reason for them to disappear.

"So I think that the AMPTP has positively responded to that, and I'm very encouraged by it," he added. "There's still a good distance to go, but I think nonetheless this is a positive road mark, and I think that others in the business will feel similarly."

SAG and the AMPTP said late Wednesday they had concluded their eighth day of talks and would resume negotiations at 10 a.m. today.