Strike looms over U.S. prod'n in Canada


TORONTO -- A strike threat looms over U.S. film and TV shoots in Canada after domestic actors on Thursday said they could take to picket lines to fend off North American producers' demands for steep pay cuts.

Negotiations on a new Independent Production Agreement between ACTRA, representing 21,000 domestic performers, and Canadian and U.S. producers broke off Wednesday, with the performers urging that a mediator be brought on board to end an apparent impasse.

Stephen Waddell, ACTRA's national executive director, on Thursday said the call for formal conciliation was a necessary step before he could legally poll his membership on a possible strike.

"It starts the clock," Waddell said. "Our contract expires on Dec. 31, and you need conciliation to terminate the contract."

ACTRA also has promised labor peace for producers shooting north of the border if they sign a "continuation letter" and agree to pay unionized actors higher minimum daily rates in line with current demands at the bargaining table.

Producers that sign the safe harbor document will be able to continue shooting in Canada after Dec. 31 in the event of a strike or lockout.

A possible strike would not affect British Columbia, where producers have a separate collective agreement with the Union of British Columbia Performers).

Talks on a new indie production pact between ACTRA, U.S. producers, Canadian English-language producers represented by the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn. and Quebec producers aligned with the Association de producteurs de films et de television du Quebec (APFTQ) got off to a rocky start Monday when actors were asked to take pay cuts of 10%-25% for minimum daily rates paid on film and TV productions shot here.

The North American producers opening gambit also included proposed reductions in overtime rates, turnaround times and producer contributions to insurance and retirement accounts, according to ACTRA.

Waddell, whose membership called for a 15% raise in minimum rates over three years for homegrown shoots and a 40% jump over five years for U.S. productions in Canada, said his membership will never accept a rollback agreement. He urged the North American producers to take their "wretched" demands for workplace pay and conditions off the table before negotiations could resume.

But negotiatiors for the Canadian producers association urged ACTRA to regroup and resume negotiations, rather than lay the ground for a possible strike by formally calling for labor mediation.

"I don't see how a mediator here will solve the problem," said CFTPA national vp of industrial relations John Barrack, the group's lead negotiator.

The current talks on a new collective agreement between Canadian actors and North American producers was originally scheduled to start last March, well ahead of the Dec. 31 expiration of the current indie agreement.

But those talks were delayed as U.S. producers, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, bargained in Vancouver with the UBCP on a new B.C. Master Production Agreement, which governs workplace rates and conditions for actors in the western Canadian province.

Representatives of ACTRA and the CFTPA sat in as observers on the AMPTP/UBCP talks, which have since gone to arbitration. The mediator in that dispute, Vincent Ready, recently got both sides to agree to extending the current B.C. Master Production Agreement through March 31.

ACTRA's Waddell said that U.S. producers including studio representatives from Universal, Sony, Warner Bros. and Disney have threatened to move planned movie shoots to Vancouver or elsewhere internationally, if necessary, to back their wage and workplace demands.

Typically, studios avoid shooting where a strike or lockout is possible to avoid having to duplicate locations elsewhere in the event of disruption.

Waddell accused U.S. producers of reducing their number of shoots in British Columbia in 2005 to force recent concessions from the UBCP, and insists that he will resist a similar strategy in Ontario, which has seen a severe downturn this year in the number of U.S. runaway shoots.

ACTRA sought and received strike mandates from its membership during earlier IPA talks in 1995 and 1999 but has never initiated a strike. But given the current demands from producers, Waddell predicted his membership will "overwhelmingly" back a strike mandate should he order a referendum.

The Canadian actors and producers earlier planned to continue bargaining in November and December on a new IPA agreement, but no dates have been firmed up after this week's opening round.