May 7, 2008 / 1:53 AM / 11 years ago

UPDATE 3-Hollywood studios, actors break off labor talks

(Adds quotes from SAG president)

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES, May 6 (Reuters) - Major studios cut off three weeks of contract talks with the Screen Actors Guild on Tuesday and blamed the union for “unreasonable demands,” stoking Hollywood labor tensions after a 100-day writers strike that ended in February.

News of the stalemate came in a statement from the studios’ bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, about 90 minutes after a self-imposed deadline for reaching a settlement had passed.

Major points of contention cited by the two sides include union proposals for more generous “residual” payments earned by actors from sales of DVDs and for online streaming of entertainment content.

The Screen Actors Guild, or SAG, also is pressing for new rules governing studios’ use of video clips and archive footage of actors’ performances on the Internet and compensation for such material.

The AMPTP said “insufficient progress has been made to extend the negotiations” for a third time and that talks were “thrust into reverse” by the Screen Actors Guild refusing to embrace the terms of labor deals already reached with screenwriters and directors.

“With SAG’s continued adherence to unreasonable demands ... continuing negotiations at this time does not make sense,” the statement said, adding that the studios “have offered to resume negotiations with SAG at a future date.”

SAG President Alan Rosenberg said later he was “terribly disappointed.”

“It was our intention to carry these negotiations through to their conclusion, and I felt we were making progress,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview. “This interruption will make it more difficult to reach an agreement, although I’m still optimistic.”

Asked about the potential for an escalation of labor unrest or work stoppage, Rosenberg said, “I don’t want to think about or talk about a strike until I’m convinced that we can’t make progress in negotiations. And I’m not at that point yet.”

LABOR JITTERS

The current three-year contract covering 120,000 film and TV actors expires on June 30, but the union and studios have been under pressure to reach an early deal to dispel labor jitters that hang over the world’s show business capital.

The 14-week screenwriters’ strike that ended in February, Hollywood’s worst labor clash in 20 years, shut down much of the TV industry, derailed several film productions and idled thousands of Hollywood workers, costing the local economy an estimated $3 billion.

Prime-time television is still getting back on its feet. And film studios are treating SAG’s contract expiration next month as a de facto strike deadline, postponing productions they are unable to finish by June 30.

The studios said they would turn now to opening contract talks with SAG’s smaller sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or AFTRA, which decided last month to negotiate its main TV contract separately.

The two unions had bargained together on their respective prime-time TV contracts for 27 years. But recent tensions between the two reached a boiling point in early April, and AFTRA suspended their joint negotiating pact to go it alone.

More than 40,000 of AFTRA’s 70,000 members also hold SAG cards.

Seeking to sound an upbeat note in its statement, the AMPTP said the studios “hope that these three weeks of work have helped lay the groundwork for an agreement that can eventually be reached prior to June 30.”

But one Hollywood labor expert with ties to both sides, former WGA co-counsel Jonathan Handel, said moving on to talks with AFTRA “really creates an unstable situation.”

Many in Hollywood have speculated the studios were eager to begin talks with AFTRA, widely seen as less confrontational than SAG and more likely to agree to terms favorable to the industry, thus weakening SAG’s bargaining position. (Editing by Eric Beech and Jackie Frank)

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