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Union talks dissolve

Vowing to send out strike consent cards to its members immediately, the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees wearily ankled the bargaining table early Saturday morning after failing to hammer out a new contract with the producers’ alliance.

The marathon latenight session between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers broke down three hours after the midnight Dec. 3 deadline despite reaching several key agreements on the hotly debated health and pension plans.

IATSE prexy and chief negotiator Al DiTolla flew to New York during the weekend telling West Coast union chief Harry Floyd to issue strike authorization vote cards to the members. If ratified, the vote would give the strike committee the power to call an immediate work stoppage, which could hit Hollywood as early as Jan. 1.

In the meantime, workers on current TV and feature pic projects will continue working without a contract, but presumably receiving the same wage and benefit packages they had been getting before the old pact expired.

Floyd said the union abandoned the last-minute talks only after a late salvo from the AMPTP, which agreed to crucial concessions for an18-month contract, rather than a typical three-year pact. “We were satisfied with it until we saw the short-term contract,” Floyd said. “Certain things agreed to in that health plan, we thought would go to ’96. When we saw it was a short-term contract, those things then became serious matters.”

Sources said the IATSE would probably use the vote as a bargaining tool, meaning the union would wait to start up talks again until they officially had the fiat to call a strike for the 24,000-plus members in the Los Angeles area.

Floyd downplayed the notion of an immediate strike. “I really don’t know if that will happen,” he said. “It really depends on what transpires between now and then. I’m not foreseeing anything right now. But we’re ready to take the action if necessary. We have been prepared. They’re preparing too.”

AMPTP insiders agree that a strike would hit TV production in Los Angeles the hardest, shutting down most of the city’s studio space. Features, which are more easily relocated, will not be as adversely affected, but would be forced to spend more cash to re-shape shooting skeds in new locations. It is unclear whether features now in production would continue if a strike were called. AMPTP sources claim most of them have “no-strike” clauses in their contracts. But union officials counter that few feature pics actually have that type of provision.

One producer said the IATSE “shot themselves in the foot” by abandoning the talks rather than staying through the weekend and finishing the contract.

The producer said his company, along with many of the studios, would immediately start moving post-production work outside of L.A.

As for future shooting, he said upcoming features would begin booking new locales. “More work will be scheduled away from Los Angeles,” he said. “As each week goes by, more projects will start moving out of the city.”

The health and pension plans have been the biggest problem point in the talks. After a long session last Wednesday, both sides seemed unwilling to budge. But the AMPTP team, headed by prexy Nicholas Counter, conceded to measures it thought would settle the contract.

According to AMPTP sources, the producers agreed to a 20% increase in pension benefits for active workers. For retirees, the benefits would rise 1% a year for each year they’ve been retired with a minimum of 5% and a max of 15%.

The employers also agreed to an 80 cents per hour hike in contributions to the health plan. With the recent 50 cents per hour raise, management said they believed it was as good as a 6% hike in wages.

The source said the modifications the AMPTP wanted in such areas as drive-to mileage and overtime pay were consistent with what the IATSE agrees to with independent producers.

“We’re saying the major employers of the IATSE members in Los Angeles should be entitled to the same contract modifications that they’ve agreed to with other producers. It’s very straightforward,” the source said.

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