Momentum still on the table

SAG, AMPTP make little progress as AFTRA waits in the wings

SAG's contract talks with Hollywood studio reps enter their third week today amid a growing sense that progress has been meager behind closed doors.

The actors' contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers expires June 30, but industryites for now are focused on May 5. That's when sister union AFTRA is set to start talks with the same studio group.

AFTRA's entering formal contract talks likely would temporarily sideline SAG negotiators. Such talks also would offer at least the prospect of a quick AMPTP deal with the more moderate performers union, which in turn would considerably complicate the handicapping on SAG negotiations.

AFTRA initially had set its AMPTP talks to begin today, but all parties decided to give the SAG negotiations another week to try to mark progress toward a settlement. SAG and AMPTP reps met Friday, but as usual, the parties declined to say what had been discussed.

Well-placed management and labor sources said much of last week involved discussion of new-media demands, with SAG putting forth its vision of how terms of the recent DGA and WGA deals should be adjusted or improved to suit the needs of actors. Management negotiators had minimal response to the presentation and none that was promising.

What many are wondering is when — or if — SAG will present in detail its oft-floated demand to expand DVD residuals.

Neither the directors nor the writers got anything additional on that score, and most believe the issue would be a non-starter with the AMPTP if SAG were to stick to its guns and press such a proposal in the contract talks. SAG hasn't made much of the issue in its formal talks so far, but if it does things could get dicey pronto.

SAG leaders say they aren't looking to strike, but nothing is guaranteed if the guild's contract expires with negotiators still far apart.

"It will be telling if they take a strike-authorization vote at any point," one veteran negotiations-watcher suggested.

That still would allow the guild to continue to work under a contract extension while maintaining a credible posture at the bargaining table, allowing SAG leadership to continue to press various contract demands.

The parties skipped a scheduled Saturday session without explanation except to note the one-week extension meant there would be a session today. Reps are scheduled to convene at noon at AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks, the site for all nine bargaining sessions held to date. (partialdiff)