FTAC petition needs 'intense lobbying'


First they filed the paperwork, now comes the arm-twisting.

Hollywood labor is seeking help from Washington in its legal fight against Canadian film subsidies and the loss of U.S. film and TV jobs from runaway production.

"There needs to be an intense lobbying effort, through everybody's contacting their congressional representatives and U.S. senators," Teamsters Local 399 business agent Steve Dayan urged at a news conference Wednesday at SAG headquarters.

SAG and the Teamsters are among more than two dozen unions, businesses and local governments supporting a grass-roots activist group's so-called 301(a) petition. The Film and Television Action Committee, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit comprising mostly members of below-the-line unions, filed the petition Tuesday with the U.S. Trade Representative.

FTAC's petition for relief, filed under a provision of the 1974 U.S. Trade Act, seeks USTR intervention with Canadian authorities in an effort to end or phase out Canada's use of tax credits and other incentives to lure film and TV productions north of the border. Alternately, FTAC leaders want trade officials to ask the World Trade Organization to kill Canadian incentives, which they consider illegal under the WTO's General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Canada's actors union ACTRA vowed Tuesday to fight FTAC's efforts. But Gretchen Koerner, chair of SAG's national legislative committee, emphasized that the FTAC petition targets only Canada's subsidies to U.S. productions and not those to indigenous Canadian film and TV projects.

"The U.S. is hemorrhaging jobs in the film industry," Koerner said. "These are jobs that are senselessly outsourced in an industry that is thriving."

The MPAA also opposes the groups' 301(a) petition, but FTAC executive director Tim McHugh suggested that the Hollywood studios' lobbying arm is simply looking after its own self-interest.

"There are a number of organizations who have a conflict of interest and probably shouldn't take a position on this," McHugh said.

That includes the DGA, which has declined to back the 301(a) petition and whose members often have producer credits or lucrative profit participations in productions, he noted.

McHugh said he expects the USTR to decide whether to back the petition within 45 days. Subsequent discussions with Canadian officials and perhaps the WTO are expected to take up to two years.

About 20 cases of materials have been delivered to the USTR for review, with the 114-page petition supplemented by 3,447 pages of documentation, officials said. Materials supporting the petition's claims against Canada have been accumulated since 1998, when the campaign was first formulated.

FTAC has hired the Washington law firm Stewart and Stewart to lead its petition campaign, which is expected to take up to $600,000 to fund. The group has raised about half that amount so far, largely through union pledges, including a $100,000 Teamsters contribution.

"This is a momentous occasion, nine years in the making," said Earl Brendlinger, business agent of Studio Utility Laborers Local 724.

If successful, the groups' petition drive could even improve the quality of movie productions, Dayan said.

"The best crafts people in the world are right here in Hollywood," the Teamsters official said. "We believe we will make better product here than in other countries."