Striking actors, producers, mediator meet

First talks with neutral facilitator

TORONTO --Striking Canadian actors and North American producers bargained through a mediator Monday for the first time.

Mary Ellen Cummings, an alternate chair with the Ontario Labor Relations Board, acted as a neutral facilitator as representatives for the striking ACTRA, representing 21,000 domestic performers, negotiated in Montreal with the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn. and the Association de producteurs de films et de television du Quebec.

But despite attempts to dig ACTRA and the CFTPA out of the hole dug when the performers called a strike Jan. 8, Cummings made slow headway as both sides gave little ground on the contentious issue of new-media compensation for performers.

John Barrack, the CFTPA's chief negotiator, said the latest talks were set back by ACTRA proposing a steep increase in what performers are paid beyond their original day rate for work to be shown in other media.

Currently, producers pay Canadian performers 105% beyond their wages to buy out those rights. ACTRA proposed that the payment be bumped up to 150% to buy all uses outside of new media.

Barrack said it was unacceptable for ACTRA to call for a near-50% increase in buyout costs when the value of new-media rights had yet to be determined. The producers also contend that new media has yet to deliver sufficient revenue to justify raising payments for actors.

But Stephen Waddell, chief negotiator for ACTRA, urged the producers to remove objections to a special committee being formed to negotiate new-media compensation, a move that would pave the way to all remaining issues being successfully negotiated to end the actors strike.

"(Producers) want to keep the industry in turmoil on this (new media) position by insisting we have got to agree to their view on how performers should be compensated," Waddell said.

Despite her affiliation with the Ontario Labor Relations Board, the provincial labor tribunal, Cummings intervened in the actor-producer talks Monday as a neutral facilitator whose services were paid for by both parties.

Government-appointed mediators were named in November to possibly step in and help broker a new collective agreement for ACTRA performers.

But the producers until Monday had resisted any recourse to mediation, government-sanctioned or otherwise, on grounds that such a move would recognize ACTRA as a bona fide union in a position to legally strike.

The Ontario Superior Court in Toronto is to consider today a legal motion filed two weeks ago by the CFTPA that argues the Canadian actors strike is illegal because it breaches long-standing protocols contained in the Independent Production Agreement over how and when domestic actors can strike to back their demands at the bargaining table.

ACTRA's Waddell said this week's talks to end the labor dispute also are hung up on the mechanism by which producers would recognize ACTRA as a trade union and whether the CFTPA will retract its legal challenge in the Ontario Superior Court should both sides settle on a new IPA deal.

The producers contend that ACTRA members can strike as long as they do so according to the negotiating protocol stipulated in the IPA.

Ignoring that protocol, ACTRA called its current performers strike this month after talks on a new IPA agreement broke down over how to compensate actors for performances showing up on the Internet, cell phones and other digital media.

But the Canadian industry has so far suffered little disruption, thanks to producers ignoring advice from the CFTPA and signing ACTRA continuation letters that exempt individual film or TV shoots from picketing or other job action.