SAG eyes early talks for TV, pix

Guild eager to negotiate despite recent deadlock

Screen Actors Guild president William Daniels, even with no end in sight to his union’s strike against advertisers, has declared SAG will seek early negotiations with networks and studios on the TV-theatrical contract that expires next July.

Daniels, in an interview Thursday after returning to Los Angeles from two weeks of fruitless negotiations in New York, said no date has been set for negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers but pledged to get talks started by the end of the year.

“We plan to get together with the AMPTP as soon as possible to start,” Daniels said. “We’ll do it as soon as we can free the people up.”

The assertion came a day after SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists reached an impasse in negotiations with advertisers. Both sides left the table without a date for resuming bargaining, although the ad industry’s negotiator speculated that mediators will try restarting talks in a month.

The collapse of the talks, with the strike in its 22nd week, reinforced the widely held belief among industry insiders that a second SAG/AFTRA strike next summer is inevitable.

“Even if the ad strike had been resolved, our feeling is that SAG will test the resolve of the studios next year,” one agent said. “A few executives are saying they don’t believe there will be a strike, but I think they’re in denial. My guess is that they’ll strike for at least six months.”

But Daniels dismisses the notion that another work stoppage is already set in stone.

“The reasoning that we’ll strike next year is just doomsday stuff and people trying to make headlines,” he said. “I believe there really is a deal to be made with the networks and studios.”

Welcomes initiative

AMPTP chief J. Nicholas Counter indicated he welcomed Daniels’ initiative to get to the bargaining table sooner rather than later.

“We are prepared to enter into negotiations with SAG and AFTRA as soon as they are prepared to do so,” he said. “We can understand that they have been distracted. We are ready to bargain in good faith.”

In the case of the ad strike, negotiators exchanged proposals 10 weeks before the contract expired and started bargaining three weeks later.

In the past, SAG and the AMPTP have launched negotiations as early as six months prior to contract expiration. But SAG has never used a “fast-track” negotiating procedure, designed specifically to avert strikes by limiting proposals and starting negotiations far in advance of expiration.

Key ruling bodies of the Writers Guild of America announced last week the endorsement of traditional rather than fast-track bargaining (Daily Variety, Sept. 22). The WGA pact expires May 1 and most observers expect the guild to walk out.

As for the current strike, Daniels said strike leaders will spend the next few days formulating specifics of strategy. “We will be turning up our efforts a notch,” he added, promising that high-profile members will become far more active.

Boycott threatened

The unions had announced two weeks ago that, if talks collapsed, they would launch a boycott with the support of the AFL-CIO of a “dirty dozen” of products from Procter & Gamble. The list, which could include Pampers, Jif, Folgers, Tide, Pert, Pringles and Crest, has not been announced but SAG spokesman Greg Krizman said the specifics would be announced next week at a news conference.

P&G has been targeted because of close ties to the Joint Policy Committee of advertiser groups that serves as the negotiating arm for the industry. The consumer products giant spends more than $10 billion annually on advertising.

“The potential deal fell apart because of anonymous members of the JPC like Procter & Gamble rather than the JPC negotiators like Joanne Kesler and John McGuinn,” said SAG VP and negotiator David Jolliffe. “The difference in the final offers was $6 million a year; now, P&G is going to lose $6 million a day.”

Los Angeles activists, including Alexandra Paul and Martin Sheen, picketed Thursday at a non-union Vicks shoot at Pepperdine University in Malibu while New York activists picketed a non-union Physique shampoo spot in Manhattan. Both brands are owned by P&G.

In addition to the boycott, activists could target the hundreds of P&G factories around the country. Krizman said the unions will probably be represented at the Oct. 10 P&G shareholders meeting.

Strike committee members also decided Thursday to revise the unions’ interim contracts — under which members can work during the strike — to reflect basic terms of the final offer by SAG/AFTRA. The unions have signed close to 2,000 such agreements, but most are with smaller advertisers and agencies.

“The new interim agreement is an excellent deal for advertisers, particularly with the huge concessions we made in cable,” Jolliffe said.

The unions have not yet set a date for a town hall meeting in Los Angeles but one is likely to be scheduled within the next 10 days.

Actors Equity prexy Patrick Quinn issued a statement of support Thursday, saying, “It is especially crucial that actors remain unified at this time when advertisers refuse to pay a living wage.”

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