Strike could end as early as next week

TORONTO — Canadian thesps and producers appear to be inching toward a rapprochement that could end a bitter actors’ strike as early as next week.

Thesps have been on strike in several provinces since early January, as their union and the associations repping producers have been unable to agree to the terms of a new Independent Production Agreement. The two sides are at an impasse over wages and new-media rights.

Although formal talks broke off late last week, reps of the two sides have been speaking by cell phone and emailing, and ACTRA chief negotiator Steve Waddell suggested a deal may be in the offing.

“One idea being explored that we think may be leading us to a solution is to take some of the new-media issues and refer them to arbitration,” he said.

However, CFTPA chief negotiator John Barrack said, “He’s very optimistic. There’s a lot of ground that needs to be covered before then.”

The two sides have a court-ordered date with a Canadian arbitrator Tuesday. The arbitration is meant to address producers’ contention that the union’s strike tactics, including work-continuation letters it has been offering producers, are illegal.

But Waddell suggested that if the wage issue can be settled, “negotiation protocols” left as they are and outstanding litigation dropped, the arbitrator can instead address a sub-issue identified by producers as in urgent need of quick fix: the conversion of existing material to new-media platforms.

Remaining new-media issues would then be remanded to a joint committee for further study, and everyone could get back to work, he said.

The two sides have been very close on the issue of wages, with ACTRA asking for 10% over three years and producers offering 9%, but new-media issues remain as contentious as ever. Most recently, ACTRA accused U.S. studios of trying to steer the talks in order to set a favorable precedent for WGA, DGA and SAG contract negotiations.

ACTRA has come under considerable pressure from other Canadian industryites, however, as business in Toronto, in particular, has slowed to a trickle. An open letter to ACTRA from a group that calls itself Friends of Canadian Film & Television urged a resolution.

“This email is not a ploy by the CFTPA,” it said. “This is a plea from your fellow industry workers and dedicated suppliers,” some of whom, it contends, have already lost their homes, in part due to the strike.

“A protracted strike could be the last nail in the coffin,” it said. “This week is critical — any further delays would kill projects planned for the summer, not to mention cause irreparable harm to the long-term image of this country as a film destination.”

The letter warns that far from waiting anxiously to return to the Great White North as soon as possible, U.S. producers are happy to go elsewhere. It also points out that SAG is profiting from the dispute. “They love you because it means more work for them now while you’re on strike, and an easier time bargaining with the producers when their talks come up later in the year.”

“We suspect that the producers or their friends are behind this group and all it’s intended to do is discredit ACTRA’s strike,” said Waddell. “It’s just another pressure tactic being exercised by some unknown group, un-named and anonymous, and no, it doesn’t change our determination to get a just agreement here.”

Calls to the CFTPA were not returned.

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