SAG task force updated on contract talks

Breakthrough unlikely before next national board meeting

The wheels of progress continue to turn, ever so slowly, on the labor front. But don't expect any breakthroughs before the Screen Actors Guild's next national board meeting set for April 18-19.

SAG's TV-theatrical negotiations task force convened Tuesday for two-plus hours to hear an update on negotiations from interim national executive director David White, who has been engaging in informal talks for several weeks with heads of several of the studios and networks represented by the AMPTP.

White and chief negotiator John McGuire delivered a report to the 10 task force members assembled that outlined potential modifications to the AMPTP's last offer delivered in February. The contentious issue of the proposed agreement's expiration date -- a deal-breaker for the guild -- remains unresolved. The likelihood of an agreement hinges on which side will move on the date in exchange for improvements in other contract terms.

The studios are pushing for a new end-date three years from official ratification, while the union wants a shorter, retroactive term that sees the new agreement ending June 30, 2011. That would put SAG's contract expiration in synch with those of AFTRA, the WGA and the DGA and allow all to present a united front in talks.

These "opportunities," as one person cagily described them, open the door to at least a tentative resolution to the impasse before April 20. After that, the AMPTP can unilaterally impose part or all of its most recent "final offer," though such a move is potentially incendiary and seen as unlikely.

McGuire and White plan to continue behind-the-scenes discussions with company toppers in hopes of improving the offer to the point that they can recommend it to the national board for ratification. The SAG national board rejected the AMPTP's latest offer on Feb. 21.

SAG's last TV-theatrical contract expired June 30. The membership has worked under the parameters of the old deal since bargaining sessions ground to a halt in February. In concert with AFTRA, SAG did cut a tentative new commercials deal with the advertising industry April 1 that awaits approval by the joint board and a ratification vote by the membership.

If the next 10 days of informal talks prove fruitful, McGuire could use the national board meeting to outline a tentative deal for the board to consider and vote on. No sitdown with the AMPTP need take place beforehand if all parties agree on the shifted terms in a "memorandum of understanding," but a new formal agreement that includes modifications to the LBFO would need to be finalized before it could be sent to the AMPTP and SAG boards for ratification.

After that, the union's membership would have its say, with a simple majority of voters dictating whether the new proposed deal is acceptable or not. SAG president and MembershipFirst partisan Alan Rosenberg and his allies have repeatedly opined that the current offer is nowhere near acceptable, so the rank-and-file ratification process would likely be contentious. Guild factions opposed to the current offer have set the latest in a series of weekly rallies for Thursday at AMPTP's Sherman Oaks headquarters.

In early 2008, back-channel talks between WGA negotiators and Disney topper Robert Iger and News Corp. president-COO Peter Chernin greased the wheels for an end to the writers' monthslong strike and a new pact.