Striking actors eyeing B.C. talks

Negotiations could affect broader Canadian impasse

TORONTO -- With actors in much of Canada on strike, contract talks between union performers in British Columbia and North American producers will resume today in Vancouver for three days.

Bargaining sessions between the Union of British Columbia Performers -- the local branch of ACTRA -- and producers led by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers will be the first since mediator Vince Ready declared an impasse in July and extended the B.C. Master Production Agreement, which governs actor rates in the province, for a fourth year to March 31.

Officials with ACTRA, representing 21,000 Canadian actors outside of British Columbia, and the Canadian Film and Tele-vision Production Assn., representing major domestic producers, will attend the Vancouver talks as observers.

Stephen Waddell, chief negotiator at ACTRA, which called its members out on strike Jan. 8 in much of Canada but not British Columbia, said all eyes will be on Vancouver this week to gauge progress and a possible settlement.

CFTPA chairman Ira Levy agreed that a possible end to the three-week strike by ACTRA could hinge on a quick settlement of the UBCP talks with producers.

A host of film and TV projects have shifted to Vancouver since ACTRA launched its strike, Levy said, owing to a more favorable labor climate in that province.

Levy said the UBCP and U.S. producers had negotiated a safe harbor agreement for continuing film and TV production that satisfied both parties after the last B.C. Master Production Agreement expired.

By contrast, Levy added, ACTRA's use of continuation letters to prolong its strike outside of British Columbia led the CFTPA to file a lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to end such practices.

As was the case before Ready extended the British Columbia agreement, UBCP and AMPTP bargainers will attempt to find common ground over a demand from U.S. producers for discounts on low-budget projects.

Success in settling the UBCP talks also could provide a benchmark for wages in the separate ACTRA talks.

CFTPA bargainers have attempted to tie a possible settlement with ACTRA to recent deals between Canadian producers and the Writers Guild of Canada and the Directors Guild of Canada.

But ACTRA representatives have resisted those comparisons, insisting they seek wage parity with their SAG colleagues to the south.