Mediator unable to bring SAG, AMPTP together

No agreement after 27 hours of talks

SAG is inching closer to a strike.

After two days worth of round-the-clock meetings – about 27 hours – federal mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez was unable to bring SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers together to hash out a new TV/theatrical contract.

Talks broke off shortly before 1 a.m. Saturday morning.

"As previously authorized by the national board of directors, we will now launch a full-scale education campaign in support of a strike authorization referendum," SAG said. "We will further inform our members about the core, critical issues unique to actors that remain in dispute."

No timeline was given on when materials would be sent out or a strike vote would be taken.

In response to SAG's decision to seek strike authorization, the AMPTP said, "SAG is bizarrely asking its members to bail out the failed negotiating strategy with a strike vote -- at a time of historic economic crisis. The tone deafness of SAG is stunning."

In October, SAG's national board called in Gonzalez with the hopes of trying to get the AMPTP to start up negotiations again after a then-four month stalemate. The board also voted to give its negotiating committee the ability to ask for a strike authorization vote if the mediation fails. SAG needs 75% of its voting members to approve the measure in order to go forward with a strike.

SAG's president Alan Rosenberg has previously said that a strike authorization vote does not necessarily mean the union will instantly go on strike. Rather, the union believes the strike authorization would be a useful bargaining tool and give it more leverage in the talks.

Up until Thursday, the two sides had not met with each other since mid-July, when SAG responded to the AMPTP's estimated $250 million final offer with a counter-proposal, which the studios rejected.

In a statement, the AMPTP said it "accepted the federal mediator's invitation to meet with SAG in hopes of concluding our seventh major agreement of 2008. The producers met for two days with SAG at the request of federal mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez. The parties were unable to reach an agreement and the mediator has adjourned the mediation process."

Day two of the meetings went on for about 15 hours, following a 12-hour session on Thursday, which was the first time the two sides had met. Over the course of the talks, SAG and the AMPTP kept mum about the meetings with Gonzalez, who asked both sides to adhere to a confidentiality agreement.

SAG put the blame on the AMPTP for the talks failing, stating the studios continue to insist on terms it cannot "responsibly accept" for its members.

"We have already made difficult decisions and sacrifices in an attempt to reach agreement," SAG said. "Now it's time for SAG members to stand united and empower the national negotiating committee to bargain with the strength of a possible work stoppage behind them."

Given the unhealthy economic climate, the AMPTP has insisted SAG is not going to get a deal superior to what the other major guilds negotiated this year, including the WGA, DGA and AFTRA.

Coming into the mediation session, however, SAG was armed with the WGA's recent arbitration filing against the AMPTP, which claims the studios have yet to pay up on the new media residual platform negotiated in its new contract.

The missing WGA payments include reuse of work for programs sold as electronic downloads, also known as Electronic Sell-Through, which involves the sale of video content online that allows the purchaser to keep a copy of the program permanently.

The AMPTP responded to the WGA stating, "The understanding we reached with the WGA was exactly the same as the one we reached with the DGA. The DGA deal calls for the new EST formula to apply only to motion pictures that are initially released in new media after the effective date of the new agreement. The producers are implementing the terms of the agreement we made with WGA, just as we have with the other 310 major labor agreements the AMPTP has made over the past 26 years."

SAG's sticking points have focused mostly on new media residuals.

"We remain committed to avoiding a strike but now more than ever we cannot allow our employers to experiment with our careers," SAG said. "The WGA has already learned that the new media terms they agreed to with the AMPTP are not being honored. We cannot allow our employers to undermine the futures of our members and their families."
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