Hollywood stars seek early start to labor talks

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood stars George Clooney, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep are urging the Screen Actors Guild to start talks for a new labor contract as soon as possible in order to avert a strike.

Two days after the Writers Guild of America ended a three-month strike, the Oscar-winning quartet placed ads in the Thursday editions of trade papers Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. The ads urged SAG leaders to commit to negotiating a deal quickly, Daily Variety reported.

SAG, whose militant leadership strongly supported the writers’ strike, has not yet set talks in preparation for the June 30 expiration of its contract with the studios.

SAG’s committee on wages and working conditions has been preparing for the talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the studios’ bargaining arm.

Even though the writers walkout just ended, Hollywood is in the throes of a de facto strike because movie studios are reluctant to commit to projects if there is a risk they could be shut down by an actors’ stoppage.

The last major SAG strike lasted for three months in 1980. In 2000, commercials actors struck for six months.

SAG national executive director Doug Allen said on Wednesday that the union, which represents about 120,000 actors, would begin talks “at a time that will most benefit our members.”

But Clooney expressed concern last week that there was “a lot of strike fatigue” in Hollywood and claimed SAG officials would lose negotiating power the longer they waited to begin talks with movie and television producers.

Members of the writers union will vote later on their proposed three-year contract, which provides new payments to writers for work streamed on the Internet and doubles rates they earn for films and TV shows resold as Internet downloads. It also extends the union’s contract to cover made-for-Web content.

Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Bill Trott