Negotiators for two major actors unions set a strike deadline of midnight Wednesday in talks with motion picture and television producers on a new three-year contract, spokesmen for the two unions disclosed Monday afternoon.
The deadline was set at a meeting of the two unions’ joint bargaining committee Monday, according to Pamm Fair of the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists and Mark Locher of the Screen Actors Guild. They added that if there is substantial progress in negotiations, the strike deadline could be extended.
Monday’s announcement was timed to coincide with the resumption of negotiations between the unions and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Talks had broken off July 2. Carol Akiyama, vice president of the producers alliance, said in an interview that her organization agreed to try to conclude the negotiations by Wednesday midnight.
Could Interrupt Filming
A strike would interrupt filming of feature films and of prime-time television series, which already are in production for the fall season. It would not affect daytime soap operas, filming of commercials, television news or radio shows, which are covered by another contract. At a news conference in Hollywood held before announcement of the strike deadline, SAG President Patty Duke and AFTRA President Frank Maxwell expressed hope that a walkout could be averted, but noted that members voted by an overwhelming margin to authorize a strike in ballots counted over the weekend.
The two unions represent 92,000 actors, dancers, singers, stunt people and other performers. Just over 30,000 of them cast ballots and 87% voted to approve a strike if necessary.
Monday’s bargaining was the first negotiating session held since July 2, when the actors’ unions rejected the “final offer” made by producers.
Residual Payments at Issue
Duke and Maxwell both said that the key issue separating the two sides is a demand by producers that the formula for determining an actor’s share of residual payments on the sale of videocassettes be changed. The change would result in smaller payments for actors.
Residual payments are payments made to an actor, in addition to his regular salary, for additional showings of a production in which the actor appeared.
Maxwell also said that the unions objected to a demand by producers that performers give up residuals on pay-per-view broadcasts of feature films shown within one year of initial theatrical release.
Although spokesmen for the producers alliance have not commented publicly on the residuals issue, sources close to the alliance said producers are seeking to reduce residual fees in an effort to recoup production costs.
The two sides also have differences on other economic issues. The unions are asking for a 22% wage hike, spread over three years, while the producers have offered a 9% raise. Duke told reporters that while “there’s plenty of room for compromise” on the wage package, the proposal that actors accept reduced residuals on videocassettes is “not even thinkable.”
The negotiations are being closely watched by other Hollywood unions. Mike Franklin, executive director of the Directors Guild of America (DGA), said he sent a letter to the union’s executive board on July 21 urging them to support the actors in their battle to retain the current residuals formula.
Franklin told the board that if the actors lose the residuals battle, it will hurt the Directors Guild in its upcoming negotiations because the SAG contract is “comparable to . . . the DGA basic agreement.”
Negotiators adjourned the bargaining talks Monday afternoon and will resume discussions today.
Meanwhile, AFTRA is involved in a separate but comparably thorny set of labor negotiations for TV news personnel with ABC, CBS and NBC. Those contracts expired last November and have been extended on a day-to-day basis since then. Bargaining toward a new three-year agreement broke off on July 18. Union officials are currently mulling over their next move, including the possibility of a strike, but no strike authorization vote has been held.
According to an AFTRA spokesman, the primary issue that ruptured negotiations was a demand by the networks that they be allowed to make television reporters perform technical work currently performed by members of two other unions. If the networks got their way, said Terry Walker of AFTRA, they ultimately could require correspondents to take their own pictures, handle their own equipment, and edit film as well as report the news.
Those technical jobs are currently done by members of the National Assn. of Broadcast Employees and Technicians at ABC and NBC and by members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers at CBS.
Spokesmen for those unions have indicated that they have no intention of surrendering jurisdiction over those jobs. Tom Kennedy, network bargaining coordinator for the broadcast employees union, said such a provision ultimately could result in the loss of jobs for hundreds of technicians. He said that the union already has lost about 200 jobs in network radio as a result of job combinations similar to those envisioned in the currently pending television proposal.
Spokesmen for NBC and ABC declined to comment on the news negotiations. A CBS executive who is the lead negotiator for the networks declined to return a telephone call from The Times.