SAG deal in June? Don't count on it

Both sides signal timely pact is unlikely

Chances for an actors deal by a June 30 deadline grew considerably slimmer Thursday.

In a three-page update on film and TV contract talks with SAG, the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers told 350 member companies that its negotiators are "frustrated and discouraged (that) SAG's Hollywood leadership is already saying that it's unlikely a deal will be made by June 30."

Separately, SAG national exec director Doug Allen e-mailed the Associated Press to say guild officials were hoping for an agreement soon but are prepared to keep negotiating into July. That seemed to signal a willingness to work under an extension of the current contract --which expires at month's end-- and indeed SAG has yet to call for a strike-authorization vote.

A call for strike authorization would have to pass with a 75% majority and even then wouldn't necessarily trigger an immediate work stoppage.

For now, the AMPTP seemed to suggest that SAG negotiators are on the wrong track in the ongoing talks. It ticked off three chief gripes with the guild's approach to the contract talks:

* Stating a willingness to work with a template for new-media compensation established during previous negotiations with the WGA and DGA but then proposing "many changes to the framework."

* Demanding "increases in traditional media compensation that would result in enormous additional financial burdens."

* SAG's staging "rallies, meetings and events ... often during hours that are usually reserved for negotiations."

In each case, AMPTP took care to attribute the troubling guild stances to "SAG's Hollywood leadership." This seemed a not-so-subtle way of noting that SAG's New York division and occasionally other branches have been at odds with Allen and SAG president Alan Rosenberg over the Hollywood-based leaders' perceived militant stance during the talks.

New York-based SAG directors criticized the guild's use of a Monday rally to urge dual cardholders to vote against a tentative TV contract deal with the AMPTP reached by sister actors union AFTRA. Other SAG boards outside of Los Angeles also have sent resolutions and notes assailing the strategy.

SAG and AFTRA have been locking horns since before the negotiations began. The fighting escalated when AFTRA suspended its 27-year-old joint bargaining agreement with SAG for their primetime/TV contract and negotiated on its own with the AMPTP.

Since AFTRA reached its agreement, SAG has held town hall meetings and a rally and met with 50 talent managers in efforts to defeat the AFTRA deal.

"Unfortunately, these sideshows -- distractions which SAG's Hollywood leaders appear committed to perpetuating -- will not help our industry reach our fifth 2008 labor agreement by June 30," the AMPTP said in its first public communication with members since starting up talks again with SAG on May 28.

In a response to Thursday's AMPTP message, SAG said its negotiating committee has made "significant moves in the AMPTP's direction on a number of proposals. The limited progress the AMPTP referred to ... is largely because management has not made an equally dedicated effort to achieving progress. Negotiations are about give and take, and thus far it has primarily been SAG's negotiating committee giving."

The union also took a jab at the AMPTP's bargaining strategy, saying, "It is well known and understood by SAG members that a consistent employer tactic in negotiation is to distract from core issues and attempt to sow dissension. This tactic will not work."

SAG was first to the bargaining table April 15 and initially had two weeks to negotiate before AFTRA was set to start up its talks. But AFTRA twice agreed to let SAG continue with its negotiations. When SAG asked to extend its start date a third time, AFTRA refused.

That ended SAG's first half of the negotiations May 6, with AFTRA starting up talks the next day. AFTRA reached a deal on May 28 with the AMPTP, and SAG went back to the table the same day.

"SAG's inability to close this deal has already put the industry into another de facto strike, limiting the greenlighting of features and disrupting pilot production," the AMPTP said. "Unfortunately, SAG's Hollywood leadership and its allies continue to express a cavalier attitude about the consequences of a potential strike for below-the-line workers, SAG's own members and its sister guilds in particular and our economy in general."

Some on the studio side believe that SAG wants to stretch out its negotiations with the AMPTP beyond June 30 so guild officials can see how AFTRA's contract-ratification vote comes in July 9.