Unions jostle for lead in AMPTP talks


RELATED: Actors unions butt heads over negotiations

UPDATED 8:23 p.m. PT March 31, 2008

As the waters receded Monday from the labor tsunami that hit Hollywood two days earlier, leaders of SAG and AFTRA began moving forward in preparations to sit down with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

AFTRA decided Saturday to suspend its 27-year bargaining agreement with SAG and negotiate its own primetime TV contract for members, which expires June 30.

AFTRA president Roberta Reardon spoke Monday with AMPTP president Nick Counter as well as studio heads and other unions, including IATSE and the Association of Talent Agents.

"AFTRA is taking a sane approach to these negotiations," she said. "It's not about hysteria and emotion, it's about getting what's right for the members."

With the April 15 deadline for financing summer film projects looming, SAG president Alan Rosenberg said the guild is ready to start talking with the AMPTP.

"It's only right that we're the ones to go to the table first," Rosenberg said. "They have no movies and three TV shows. It's not right that they set the standard."

The actors unions were set to vote on a proposal package to bring to the bargaining table at a joint meeting of their national boards Saturday in Century City. The package was a result of six weeks of meetings on wages and working conditions, with a final two-day plenary session last week in which members of both unions voted on and approved the proposals.

After AFTRA's decision to split from SAG, both unions voted Saturday to use the same proposal package when formal talks begin.

"There's no advantage (to having identical packages)," Rosenberg said. "What's going to be different is the approach to negotiations.

"If we arrive at a fair deal with the AMPTP, then AFTRA will just glom on to that like they did with our proposal package," he added.

Reardon disagreed. "We didn't glom on to anything. That was a jointly negotiated proposal package. It was a 50-50 room."

Lingering in the background are Monday's AMPTP talks with IATSE on a contract that doesn't expire for another 16 months.

Rosenberg said SAG has yet to reach out to IATSE to ask that it postpone those talks but was unsure whether the union would be receptive to that suggestion.

Reardon said she spoke with IATSE's Thomas Short, who told her there were no plans to delay talks.

"It will sort itself out," she said. "We're not going to go in on top of them."

In the meantime, the AFL-CIO might try to facilitate a cease fire and get the unions back together.

Rosenberg said AFL-CIO president John Sweeney was not happy about what transpired Saturday. But Rosenberg stopped short of saying there wasn't a chance that SAG and AFTRA could mend fences.

"If the AFL-CIO can put pressure on them, I hope our board will be receptive," he said.

An AFL-CIO spokesman said Sweeney has been having "ongoing and private conversations" with both unions and "hopes that we can be helpful in the situation."