(Adds analysis from industry lawyer)
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Major Hollywood studios on Thursday said they would accept the intervention of a federal mediator to help break a nearly 4-month-old deadlock in contract talks with the Screen Actors Guild.
But the grudging tone of a statement from the studios’ bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, in accepting SAG’s proposal to bring in a mediator left in doubt whether such a move would lead to a settlement.
No date for resuming labor talks was immediately set, but a source close to the producers said their negotiators planned to meet alone next Thursday with a mediator.
SAG’s chief negotiator, Doug Allen, issued a terse statement saying only, “We look forward to meeting with the federal mediator and the AMPTP committee as soon as possible.”
The studios broke off negotiations on June 30 when they presented SAG with a “final” offer, hours before the expiration of their old contract covering 120,000 union performers in prime-time television and movies.
Management’s latest offer essentially mirrors terms approved by other Hollywood unions, including the accord that ended a 14-week strike by Hollywood screenwriters in February.
But SAG leaders have held out for a better deal. The two sides remain at odds over how actors should be paid for content delivered over the Internet and whether made-for-online productions should be subject to the union’s contract.
In its statement embracing the help of mediation, the studios suggested they had made as many compromises as they could in the midst of a nationwide economic slowdown.
“We are, of course, willing to meet with a federal mediator in the hopes of achieving our fifth guild agreement this year,” the AMPTP said. “But we are also realistic: It will be very difficult to reach an agreement if SAG continues to insist unreasonably that it deserves a better deal than the ones achieved by the other entertainment guilds during far better economic times.”
SAG’s national governing board last weekend approved a resolution calling for a mediator to step into negotiations. The board also said it would ask union members to authorize a strike if the mediation failed to achieve a settlement.
A strike authorization would require 75 percent approval of members who vote.
Some industry watchers believe the studios may be going through the motions of mediation to avoid giving SAG leaders ammunition in mustering support for a strike authorization.
“The parties are very far apart, they’re very dug in, the economy has deteriorated, and the same mediator was unable to gain any traction in the Writers Guild talks just before they went on strike,” said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer with ties to both Hollywood labor and management.
He predicted mediation would fail, and that “come December of January there’s a reasonable likelihood of a strike.”
The last time SAG staged a strike over its main film and TV contract was in 1980, a walkout that lasted three months. (Editing by Dan Whitcomb)