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Studios, Networks Go Public in Stalled Labor Talks

1 Dec, 2008 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Top studio and network executives Dec. 1 publicly characterized the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) as greedy in an effort to rally industry support in the contentious and stalled labor negotiations.

SAG, the union representing movie and television actors, and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) have not reached consensus to a contract that expired June 30, despite intervention by an outside federal mediator. While both sides continue to work under the former contract on an interim basis, SAG last month said it would seek approval from its 120,000 members for a strike — the first major work stoppage by actors since 1980.

In a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times, the AMPTP issued an “open letter” to the entertainment industry that questioned why SAG members merited a preferential contract to similar deals reached with six other unions, including the Writers Guild of America, Directors Guild of America and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

The AMPTP has offered SAG a deal — similar to what it gave writers and directors — that included $250 million in pay hikes and jurisdiction of new media. Actors are seeking greater compensation from Internet distribution, in addition to revamping the 20-year-old DVD residual agreement, which the studios have steadfastly refused to address.

In the letter — signed by Peter Chernin, chairman and CEO, the Fox Group; Brad Grey, chairman & CEO, Paramount Pictures Corp.; Robert Iger, president & CEO, The Walt Disney Co.; Michael Lynton, chairman & CEO, Sony Pictures Entertainment; Barry Meyer, chairman & CEO, Warner Bros.; Leslie Moonves, president & CEO, CBS Corp.; Harry Sloan, chairman & CEO, MGM; and Jeff Zucker, president & CEO, NBC Universal — the AMPTP said SAG’s “failed negotiating strategy” jeopardized the trust studio and networks had cultivated with 230,000 other union members within the industry.

“To say yes to SAG would be to repudiate the hard work and compromises made by every other labor organization in the industry over the past ten months,” the letter said. “No single guild or union should be allowed to undermine the hard-won consensus over how our industry can experiment and then prosper in the speedily changing new media marketplace.”

A source close to the producers said the letter signified unity among studios and TV networks and underscored the fact they were able to reach contract deals with other working members in the industry.

“Basically, we’re standing behind the [contract] offer and we think it’s fair,” said the source.

SAG said the newspaper ad was confirmation of the studios’ refusal to bargain in good faith. The union said it contacted two of the studio CEOs in September to get involved in the negotiations, which it said they refused.

“It better serves the industry to negotiate than to buy and respond to $100,000 newspaper ads,” SAG said in a statement.

The union said actors have different needs than writers and directors, and applying a one-size-fits-all deal is unfair and dismissive.

“We want exactly what the DGA got — the chance to negotiate an agreement that addresses the needs of our members,” SAG said. “No other guild or union can negotiate a pattern deal that fits the industry and SAG members, any more than ABC can negotiate license fees for NBC. No one has our proxy.”


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