No guarantee on SAG talks

Lack of agreement Thursday could lead to strike vote

NEW YORK -- Representatives for SAG and the AMPTP will meet officially on Thursday for the first time since midsummer -- but it's not at all certain that they will negotiate.

The studios have insisted since late June that its final offer is indeed final. SAG negotiators, however, are demanding that the terms for work in new media be improved, even though those terms are comparable with those accepted in contracts this year with the DGA, WGA and AFTRA.

The terms SAG finds most objectionable:

-- AMPTP companies would be allowed to make nonunion work for new-media platforms if costs fall below certain thresholds ($15,000 per minute/$300,000 per program/$500,000 per series order);

-- Residuals for new-media work would be limited to content that costs more than $25,000 per minute.

The meeting follows weeks of shuttle diplomacy by federal mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez. If he is unable to facilitate an agreement, SAG's national board could declare that mediation has failed and then send a strike-authorization referendum to the rank and file. If 75% of voting members approve the measure, the national board would have the authority to call a strike. The timing would seem to be most advantageous with Hollywood's awards shows as potential targets for job actions.

Nevertheless, it is uncertain the board would call a strike, even if given authority. Some board members in the New York and regional-branch divisions have said the new-media terms, while not ideal, are not bad enough to strike over, particularly in an uncertain economy. Unite for Strength, the group of actors who favor a merger with AFTRA, replaced some of the board's more hawkish members in the Hollywood Division during elections in September, giving moderates a razor-thin majority on the national board.

However, board members in Hollywood, particularly those who belong to the Membership First faction, have said that accepting the new-media terms would set a dangerous precedent that would erode union jurisdiction and actors' residual payments, particularly those working in television.