Expanded talks set stage for SAG settlement

Negotiators for striking union actors and advertisers have taken a potentially huge step toward settling the bitter five-month work stoppage as both sides agreed to bring in full bargaining teams today.

Friday’s announcement came at the conclusion of three days of bargaining under the supervision of federal mediators. Negotiators, under a mediator-imposed gag order, would only say in a joint statement, “The parties agreed to continue their negotiations on Monday with both sides bringing their full negotiating committees to New York.”

Continuation of the talks gives a strong indication that advertisers have finally eased off their demand to replace the long-standing residuals pay structure for network TV ads with upfront buyouts. Screen Actors Guild prexy William Daniels, who attended the talks, has explicitly insisted that the full union team would not come to New York unless the ad industry dropped the demand to eliminate “pay per play” residuals.

Advertisers had contended that doing away with residuals was essential to modernizing the contract to reflect shrinking network market shares. But the unions characterized the proposal as a rollback that failed to compensate them fairly for overexposure from repeated airings.

SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists are also seeking cable residuals, a monitoring system and Internet jurisdiction. Speculation about a possible settlement includes some revised form of residuals for network TV ads, a limited form of cable residuals with a cap and deferral of monitoring and Internet issues to task forces.

‘Cautiously optimistic’

Actors reacted positively but guardedly about a possible end to the strike. “I’m cautiously optimistic but I wouldn’t want to say anything else that would put a damper on the negotiations,” said Joseph Slater, an activist at SAG’s strike headquarters in Los Angeles.

The unions struck advertisers on May 1, two weeks after negotiations collapsed. Two efforts by mediators to restart negotiations floundered in June and July, prompting angry recriminations on both sides.

The ad industry has maintained it has been able to tap into the non-union talent pool to continue producing spots at pre-strike levels, but SAG and AFTRA have scoffed at those assertions and contend that quantity and quality have plummeted. The unions, which have staged hundreds of demonstrations at non-union shoots and against corporate targets such as AT&T, General Motors and McDonald’s, promised they will continue to do so this week.

“We will not let our guard down just because they are at the bargaining table,” said New York strike captain Paul Reggio.

Gotham activists plan a major rally with celebrities at 11 a.m. today at Columbus Circle, followed by a silent protest outside the Crowne Plaza Manhattan Hotel, site of the negotiations.

On Friday, former SAG prexy Charlton Heston joined pickets at a McDonald’s in Hollywood and activists convinced two non-union leads to walk off the set of a Gordon Biersch shoot. Actors also picketed a GM assembly plant in Romulus, Mich., and reported that Teamster drivers refused to deliver engines.

Strike momentum

In Gotham, the AFL-CIO took out a full-page New York Times ad Friday in support of SAG and AFTRA while 600 supporters, including Camryn Manheim, Rob Morrow, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, demonstrated outside Coca-Cola’s Manhattan offices.

“I think we have a lot of solidarity going into these talks,” Reggio said. “I am amazed that we got 600 people at a rally to show up after being on strike for almost five months.”

Celebrity support for the strike has gained momentum in recent weeks as heavyweights such as George Clooney, Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Tom Hanks, Jay Leno, Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon and Kevin Spacey have either donated to the strike relief fund or given speeches.

The strike, now starting its 21st week, has been closely watched in Hollywood not just for its economic impact — estimated at $200 million in Los Angeles County — but also as a gauge of the probability that SAG and AFTRA will strike next July when their theatrical-TV contract runs out.

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