SAG contract strategy spells celeb strike

The Screen Actors Guild in the U.S. said it won't begin negotiations with Hollywood studios until April, causing concern in the industry there may be another work stoppage this year, after the recent writers' strike. The union released a timetable in an e-mail to its 120,000 members this week, indicated that it was undergoing a study of wages and working conditions that would be finished at the end of March. Only at that point would negotiations start with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios.

The actors union, known by its initials, SAG, is under pressure to get to the bargaining table as soon as possible.

SAG is the last major Hollywood union still without a new contract, with its current agreement expiring on June 30. There are fears there will not be enough time to hammer out a new contract.

The strike by the Writers Guild of America, or WGA — which began on Nov. 5 and lasted until Feb. 12 — shut down most TV productions and cost the Los Angeles economy an estimated $2.5 billion U.S.
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WGA members overwhelmingly approved a new contract that included higher payments for content offered over the internet. Directors previously ratified a similar deal after quick negotiations in January.

However, the actors union has said they have different issues to bring up, such as how to handle forced endorsements by actors of products placed in films.

There are differences within the union about how to proceed.

Top-drawer actors Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro took out ads in trade publications recently urging SAG to start talks immediately.

Clooney has said the industry is under strain because of the three-month writers dispute.

"I think there's a lot of strike fatigue, and I think you actually start losing negotiating power," Clooney said, according to an article in the trade publication Variety.

Members of SAG's New York board announced on Thursday that they have passed a resolution asking the guild leadership to begin discussions as soon as possible.

"I see absolutely no value to the members in delaying these talks any longer," said Sam Freed, the guild's New York branch president.

"We are dealing with serious issues. We should already be at the bargaining table."


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