Thesp, ad reps hopeful of settlement in strike

At 142nd day of protest, negotiators enter fifth day of talks

Negotiators for striking union actors and advertisers, building momentum toward ending the five-month work stoppage, proclaimed Monday that they are hopeful of reaching a settlement.

The negotiators, meeting at Gotham’s Crowne Plaza Hotel with full bargaining teams in attendance, agreed to continue today — the fifth consecutive day of talks. Strike by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists is entering its 142nd day.

“We are staying on the course of remaining cautiously optimistic, but we’re also keeping our guard up,” said New York strike captain Paul Reggio, who attended a half-hour briefing by negotiators on both sides during a break in the talks. “The tone of comments by the negotiators during our meeting was positive and conciliatory.”

Richard Dreyfuss, Olympia Dukakis, Celeste Holm, former SAG prexy Richard Masur and Susan Sarandon also attended the briefing. Three lead negotiators — John McGuinn for the ad industry, Mathis Dunn for AFTRA and John McGuire for SAG — offered general comments indicating that the talks were proceeding productively.

Negotiators have been operating under a gag order imposed by federal mediators not to comment on specifics involving the talks.

“Our reaction was that the briefing was not just a symbolic gesture,” Reggio said.

The actors’ group was invited into the negotiating room for the presentation after union backers had encircled the hotel in a silent demonstration of support for the SAG/AFTRA team. The unions had earlier staged a rally at Columbus Circle with about 1,000 supporters and then marched silently to the Crowne Plaza.

Among the high-profile members attending: F. Murray Abraham, Kevin Bacon, Alec and Billy Baldwin, Billy Crudup, Robert Klein, Martha Plimpton, Tim Robbins, John Turturro, Treat Williams and Henry Winkler.

Monday’s talks were the first in the latest negotiations to include full bargaining teams, 26 for the unions and 24 for advertisers, since the mid-July talks collapsed. Sources indicated that since much of the session was devoted to bringing the arrivals up to date, there was little hope that a tentative agreement could be reached until today or Wednesday at the earliest.

Demand dropped?

Monday’s talks represented a breakthrough in the often-acrimonious dispute since union leaders had vowed that they would not send their full team to New York unless advertisers dropped their demand to eliminate the long-standing systems of residuals for network TV ads. Actors are also seeking cable residuals, Internet jurisdiction and a monitoring system.

Reggio promised that the unions will continue staging demonstrations outside the hotel as long as negotiations continue.

Commercial producers have continued to insist that they have maintained production activity equivalent to pre-strike levels — a contention disputed by the unions. “We are hopeful that the strike is settled, but no one is holding off on shooting because of the negotiations,” said Matt Miller, prexy of the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers.

The unions also continued Monday to involve high-profile members to pressure advertisers to settle, as talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell asked Procter & Gamble to pull ads from her show if they included non-union actors.

In Los Angeles, activists picketed at a non-union shoot for Downey in the Venice area and at a taping of “Politically Incorrect” over host Bill Maher’s recent anti-union comments including, “I don’t think show business should go on strike because most of them aren’t working anyway.”

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