Strike watch continues

“A cloud has been lifted from the Los Angeles economy and tens of thousands of Angelenos will breathe a sigh of relief.”

So said Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan in a statement issued after learning of Friday’s tentative settlement between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Not so fast.

The entertainment industry still has another round of negotiations to resolve, this time between the actors’ unions – the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists – and the AMPTP.

Negotiations will begin Tuesday, May 15, a date pushed back five days from the originally scheduled May 10 start. The delay is mostly due to the lengthy talks between the WGA and the AMPTP and the accommodations that are being made for SAG officials to travel to California.

The actors’ contract with Hollywood producers will end June 30, giving the two sides just 45 days to reach a compromise. Despite the WGA’s agreement, a SAG-AFTRA strike would probably halt most productions, crippling the TV and film industry.

Nor is the WGA’s agreement finalized just yet. The Board of Directors of the WGA West and the Council of the WGA East will hold a joint meeting, via videoconference, at 3 p.m. PST Tuesday. The purpose of the meeting is to receive and vote upon the contract recommendation of the guild’s negotiating committee, and to refer that recommendation to guild members for a ratification vote.

If a majority of the respective executive councils ratify the tentative agreement, a majority of the WGA’s 11,500 members must vote for ratification for the agreement to be upheld. The membership vote, scheduled for June 4, will be held at regularly scheduled membership meetings or via secret ballots.

The tentative agreement, which brings $41 million more to writers over the next three years and is not expected to face any real opposition, has been widely praised thus far. The main gains for writers were in made-for-cable, foreign TV, and Internet residuals and bringing Fox up to full network scale. But, as Los Angeles Mayor Riordan pointed out, the major effect may be squashing the panic that would have set in with a writers’ strike.

SAG and AFTRA, though, have shown a willingness and real ability to call their members to the picket line. Last year, the unions orchestrated a six-month commercial actors’ strike that was both bitter and public. This more militant stance by the actors was seen as a natural extension of the 1999 overthrow of then-SAG president Richard Masur.

But SAG president William Daniels and chief negotiator Brian Walton, as well as other SAG representatives, have played down the threat of a strike, calling it unnecessary hysteria and saying “there is a deal to be made,” in a report by The Associated Press.

“If the AMPTP and the networks are prepared – as they assured us they are – to address the unique needs of actors, we are confident we can emulate [the WGA’s] significant accomplishment of reaching an agreement without a work stoppage,” the actors unions said Tuesday in a joint statement to

WGA spokesperson Vito Turso said he does not think that the WGA agreement is necessarily a positive omen for SAG.

“I think the writers’ negotiations are separate and apart from the actors’ negotiations. Though the issues are similar in nature, SAG will have their own negotiating stance,” Turso said.

Greg Krizman, a SAG spokesperson, has a slightly different take.

“We’re studying the WGA’s deal to see if it can be helpful in addressing the unique needs of actors,” Krizman said. “The AMPTP says they are prepared to meet the unique needs of actors in the same way the unique needs of writers were met. We’re hopeful that a work stoppage will be avoided.”

The WGA’s talks had substantive creative issues unique to writers, though there are areas of overlap with SAG-AFTRA issues. SAG’s list of approximately 30 negotiating points is reportedly patterned after the WGA’s list of demands, headlined by increased cable and foreign TV residuals. SAG-AFTRA will also ask for Internet-related residuals to commence.

“This is a more streamlined set of proposals than we’ve offered in the past,” Krizman said. “Again, if the AMPTP is serious when it says it’s willing to meet the unique needs of actors, then an agreement can be reached.”

The AMPTP refused to comment Tuesday on whether it regarded the WGA agreement was a harbinger of things to come with the SAG negotiations or even if they thought a deal with SAG was likely before the current contract will expire June 30.