Actors union to seek strike authorization

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The main union representing U.S. film and television actors said on Saturday it would seek a strike authorization vote by members after federal mediation failed to break a logjam in labor talks with major Hollywood studios.

Tourists pause on a walkway at a shopping mall which offers a view of the famed Hollywood sign at the hills in California March 14, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

The Screen Actors Guild, which represents 120,000 performers across the United States, said in a statement on Saturday that no timeline had been set for a vote, which would give SAG leaders the go-ahead to call for a work stoppage and provide leverage in negotiations.

“Management continues to insist on terms we cannot responsibly accept on behalf of our members,” SAG said in its statement. “We will now launch a full-scale education campaign in support of a strike authorization referendum.”

Two major sticking points center on exactly which Internet film and TV projects would be covered by SAG contracts and how much actors should be paid for content delivered over the Web.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the major studios, responded with a terse statement noting it reached labor agreements this year on similar issues with guilds for directors, writers and a separate performers’ union.

“SAG is bizarrely asking its members to bail out the failed negotiating strategy with a strike vote -- at a time of historic economic crisis,” the AMPTP statement said.

Doug Allen, SAG’s national executive director and chief negotiator, characterized the AMPTP as being “stubborn.”

“Members need to send a powerful message to management that they are frustrated management isn’t listening to them,’ he told Reuters.

Allen declined to provide details on the two days of talks that broke off early on Saturday. As for seeking a strike authorization in the current economic slump, Allen said it was exactly the right time to bargain hard for middle-income actors, most of whom do not earn lavish movie-star salaries.

“We acknowledge these are tough times, but that’s why we need to address the way an actor makes a living,” he said. “The economic crisis makes it even more important to get a good deal out of this.”

Strike authorization would require 75 percent approval of members who cast a vote. Industry watchers think that may be tough to achieve in light of the economic slump and fatigue from a tumultuous 14-week work stoppage by the Writers Guild of America in late 2007 and 2008.

The WGA walkout idled thousands of Hollywood workers, brought prime-time TV production to a virtual halt and cost the Los Angeles economy an estimated $3 billion.

Talks between SAG and the AMPTP started earlier this year but the studios cut off negotiations June 30 after giving SAG a “final” offer only hours before the old labor deal expired. Actors have since worked without a new contract.

Editing by Peter Cooney