Clock ticking for Canadian actors

Performers union warns strike could begin Monday

With Canadian labor talks going into overtime, domestic actors warned Wednesday that they could be picketing domestic and U.S. movie shoots as early as 12:01 a.m. Monday.

ACTRA, which represents about 21,000 domestic performers, served 72-hour strike notice as the historic Royal York Hotel in Toronto played host to the latest round of talks on a new collective agreement for Canadian actors.

As ACTRA negotiators squared off with American producers, the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn. and Quebec producers represented by the Association de producteurs de films et de television du Quebec, both sides indicated that agreements had been reached on a number of outstanding issues, including wages and workplace conditions for low-budget lifestyle/reality programming.

Both sides also expressed a willingness to talk until late Sunday night, if necessary, to avert an industry shutdown.

"We're going to try hard this week to negotiate a new agreement. But the producers' associations must not underestimate our determination to ensure that it is a fair agreement," said Stephen Waddell, ACTRA's national executive director and chief negotiator.

Despite that goodwill, performer wages and first-time new-media residuals remain potential dealbreakers.

The actors are looking for the producers to improve on an earlier proposal for a wage increase of 4% over three years, with certain deferrals, that ACTRA last week deemed inadequate.

Without an agreement at week's end, ACTRA said it will take unspecified job action next week against producers in most of Canada. Actors in British Columbia have a separate agreement with North American producers.

Last month, ACTRA members voted 97.6% in favor of an industry shutdown to back their demands at the bargaining table. The last Independent Production Agreement for Canadian actors expired Dec. 31, putting ACTRA in a legal strike position in much of the country.

The performers union late last week agreed to postpone any job action for a week to allow both sides one last go at the table.

Producers that signed continuation letters with ACTRA, promising to give actors a 5% wage hike, will not be affected by threatened job action.

Waddell insisted that "dozens" of North American film and TV producers have signed continuation letters with ACTRA, a move vigorously opposed by the producers' leadership.