Studios, actors remain at odds in labor talks
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With two days left before a self-imposed deadline in contract talks with actors, major Hollywood studios said on Wednesday the two sides remained far from a deal and that excessive union demands were to blame.
The statement from the studios' bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, stoked concerns about renewed labor strife in the aftermath of a 100-day strike by screenwriters that ended in February.
The current three-year contract covering 120,000 film and TV actors expires on June 30.
The AMPTP statement also marks the most extensive public comment by either side since the Screen Actors Guild and the studios opened their negotiations on April 15 under what had been a strict media blackout.
Among the stumbling blocks the studios cited were SAG's demands for a doubling of the residual fees actors earn from DVDs, as well as changes the union sought in a new-media pay structure already embraced by writers and directors.
Those demands "would result in enormous cost increases that we are not willing to accept," the studios said.
Last week, the parties agreed to extend their initial two-week window for negotiations by a third week, until May 2, in hopes of closing what the studios described then as "significant gaps" between them.
The extension was seen as a hopeful sign that a settlement was within reach. But in Wednesday's updated notice to member companies posted online, the AMPTP said little additional progress had been made.
"Although both parties have spent considerable time in the negotiating room, we are not yet close to an agreement," the studios said. "We still have two days of negotiations remaining with SAG, and we are going to continue to work as hard as we can to find a mutually acceptable resolution."
Failing that, the studios said they would commence separate contract talks on May 5, as planned, with SAG's smaller sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or AFTRA.
There was no immediate response from SAG.
The union's June 30 contract expiration is being treated by Hollywood as a de facto strike deadline that already is disrupting the film industry.
Movie studios have generally been unwilling to launch productions they cannot complete by that date, creating lingering uncertainty in a town still jittery from a writers strike that shut down much of the TV industry and idled thousands of workers.
That walkout, Hollywood's worst labor clash in 20 years, was settled after the two sides reached a deal giving writers more money for film and TV work distributed over the Internet.
SAG leaders had said going into their talks they wanted to improve on the writers' new-media deal while seeking higher DVD residuals -- a demand the writers were forced to drop.
But the union has not asked its members for authorization to call a strike, and SAG leaders have said they want to avoid a walkout if possible.
AFTRA, whose 70,000 members include about 44,000 who also hold SAG cards, is widely seen as more inclined to reach a deal quickly with the studios, thus putting increasing pressure on the more militant SAG leaders to come to terms.
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Beech)
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