LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Labor tensions in Hollywood heated up a notch this week as the union representing 12,000 screenwriters asked its members to authorize a strike if they fail to reach agreement on a new contract later this month.
If granted, the authorization could pave the way for the first major strike against the television and film industry in nearly 20 years.
Talks between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), representing studios and TV networks, began in July and have been extremely contentious.
The two sides remain most sharply divided on proposals to revamp the system by which writers are paid for work that is distributed via the Internet and other new media.
“We are writing to request that WGA members vote to authorize the (union) to call a strike in the event that a fair and reasonable contract cannot be negotiated with the networks and studios,” the guild asked members in an e-mailed letter dated Oct 1.
If a majority of guild members grant authorization, the union could call a strike any time after the current three-year contract expires October 31. Ballots mailed to union members are due back by October 18.
The guild stated in the letter that a strike authorization vote was a step unions routinely take during labor negotiations and that it would do everything in its power to avoid a work stoppage.
In response, AMPTP President Nick Counter said the guild’s move was notable only because union negotiators seem intent on striking without seriously addressing producers’ proposals.
“WGA’s leadership is pursuing this reckless strategy by misleading the membership about our proposals,” he said in a statement posted on the AMPTP’s Web site.
The outcome of the writers guild talks also sets the stage for subsequent negotiations with actors and directors, whose separate contracts run out next summer.
Many studios have already begun preparing for a walkout by stockpiling scripts and rushing to complete film and television productions before a walkout might occur.
Various studio executives, including Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., have expressed concerns that the growing gap between writers and studios could spark a strike in Hollywood.
Hollywood screenwriters last walked off the job in 1988. That 22-week strike delayed the start of the fall TV season and cost the industry a reported $500 million.