Cable TV Producers and Union Quarrel

Times Staff Writer

The chief negotiator for Hollywood studios on Monday blasted a decision by Screen Actors Guild leaders to solicit a strike authorization vote in their contract talks with producers of such basic cable TV programs as “The Closer,” “The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck.”

Although J. Nicholas Counter to date has not been involved in the bargaining sessions, he is the industry’s top labor executive and works on behalf of the big media companies that own or are affiliated with many of the cable producers.

“We’re stunned by this,” he said.

SAG officials say they aren’t looking to strike but want to secure a fair deal.


“The members of the Screen Actors Guild entered these negotiations in good faith and with a sincere desire to reach an equitable agreement with producers,” union spokesman Seth Oster said. “That remains both our hope and goal.”

Strike authorizations are not unusual and are usually granted to give negotiators more clout at the bargaining table. If endorsed by the members, an actual strike could be called only by a union national executive board or a group it designates.

The dispute comes amid larger tensions between studios and unions representing actors and writers, whose newly elected leaders have vowed to take a tougher line in negotiations.

Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, said he was concerned that the cable development boded poorly for Hollywood’s labor relations. He accused the guild of mischaracterizing to members the terms of the offer.

Under their current basic cable agreement, actors are paid 12% of the minimum pay for the first rerun, down to 1% for the 13th and later reruns.

Producers have offered to pay 17% for the first rerun down to 1.5%, matching the residual pay formula used by the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America.

SAG, however, contends that the offer falls short, given the dramatic growth in the cable industry.

“Actors have been waiting 16 years for an improvement to the residuals formula in a basic cable business that has seen a 500% growth over the same period,” Oster said.

SAG’s last strike was in 2000, when the union walked out against advertisers over pay for commercials. Writers last struck studios in 1988.

Studios have been preparing contingency plans for a possible strike. The main contracts with writers and actors expire in 2007 and 2008, respectively.