L.A. mayor joins actors unions fracas


UPDATED 10:48 p.m. PT March 25, 2008

As representatives of SAG and AFTRA sat down Tuesday to start jointly discussing the wages and working conditions proposals to bring to their national boards for approval, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa injected himself into the labor issue, urging the unions to start talks early with the studios.

"I urge all involved to get the deals done expeditiously," Villaraigosa said in a statement. "We must keep this town working and avoid devastating effects on the workers, businesses, residents and economy of this great city."

Villaraigosa said he had been meeting this past week with reps from SAG, AFTRA and the studios to discuss the upcoming talks.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers responded to the mayor, stating, "We have always wanted to begin negotiations as soon as possible, and we remain committed to starting negotiations immediately."

SAG and AFTRA started their joint meeting on Tuesday in Los Angeles and will meet again Wednesday. The meetings are designed to polish member proposals to take to the unions' national boards, which will meet jointly to vote on them Saturday in Los Angeles.

Responding to Villaraigosa, AFTRA said it has long supported starting negotiations early and appreciates the mayor's support.

Villaraigosa also said he met with IATSE, which covers 18 unions repping 25,000 below-the-line employees. Though IATSE has usually negotiated six-to-nine months ahead of their contract expiring, it is planning to sit down with the AMPTP to start bargaining in early April -- 16 months before their current agreement expires.

IATSE and the AMPTP have declined to comment on the negotiations.

Although there's been no official confirmation, there has been repeated scuttlebutt that a motivator to start early is so that longtime IATSE president Thomas Short can pin down one last lucrative contract before retiring.

Additionally, sources say the AMPTP may welcome early negotiations as a way to put pressure on SAG to start negotiating sooner rather than later. (AFTRA has indicated it is ready and willing to start negotiations soon.)

And then there's also the issue of residuals. IATSE gets a cut from DVD and foreign sales, which get deposited into its health and welfare fund. The residuals help keep health-care costs down and increases members' pensions.

With the DGA and WGA recently negotiating contracts that included a cut of new media, sources say IATSE might feel its the right time to get in on the new residual platforms.