Long strike possible, ACTRA's Waddell says


TORONTO -- Canadian actors on Thursday turned up the heat in their contract battle with North American producers, threatening a long strike if no agreement is reached by midnight Sunday.

Stephen Waddell, chief negotiator for ACTRA, which represents 21,000 domestic performers, said Canada faces a prolonged actors strike because dozens of producers have signed continuance letters that will guarantee their projects will remain in production, with ACTRA members working on them, despite any industry shutdown.

"We expect that a great deal of production will continue, because of the continuance letters," Waddell said. "We'll continue to sign companies, and we're feeling confident as more letters are coming in today."

Canadian and U.S. producer associations have urged their members not to sign the continuance letters on offer from ACTRA. The letters promise producers no disruption by ACTRA picket lines if they guarantee performers a 5% wage increase.

John Barrack, chief negotiator for the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn., representing English-language Canadian producers, on Thursday said that ACTRA's continuance letters were "unlawful," and will provoke a legal battle in the event of an industry shutdown.

"This will end up in the courts pretty quickly," Barrack promised.

The skirmish over the continuance letters came as ACTRA continued talks in Toronto with American producers, the CFTPA and Quebec producers with the Association de producteurs de films et de television du Quebec.

ACTRA said its members will begin walking picket lines Jan. 8 if agreement on a new Independent Production Agreement is not reached by late Sunday night.

As the clock ticks down on the last-ditch negotiations, a 3-minute video portending industry ruin if ACTRA calls its first-ever strike next week surfaced on YouTube.

Barrack distanced his association from the video, which suggested current Canadian production crews face homelessness and financial ruin if an actors strike went ahead.

ACTRA representatives dismissed the video as crude propaganda.