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SAG, majors meet for contract talks

Negotiations to reconvene Friday

In their first meeting in four months, SAG and the majors have staged a marathon session that will reconvene on Friday.

The talks — orchestrated by federal mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez, lasted 12 hours before recessing at about 11 p.m. Thrusday.

Neither side had any comment. But despite the length of the session, early indications were that SAG’s bitter contract stalemate with the congloms won’t be resolved soon as progress appears to have been negligible.

Gonzalez emphasized at the start of the meeting that the proceedings would be confidential. People familiar with the meeting disclosed that it consisted of little more than each side re-stating its positions.

Expectations remain low that the mediation will lead to a deal. The Screen Actors Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers have stressed they haven’t changed their negotiating postures, with SAG demanding a better deal than the other Hollywood unions and the congloms are insisting they won’t change terms of their June 30 final offer.

Among labor insiders, the only optimism that a deal can be reached comes from the recent lack of verbal fireworks from either side and SAG’s willingness to put a strike authorization vote on hold while the mediation process plays out. But the negotiators achieved minimal progress in more than 40 sessions between April and July.

Each side received a boost in their negotiating positions prior to the meeting.

The AMPTP concluded negotiations Wednesday on a tentative three-year deal with IATSE. That prompted the congloms to note that it was the sixth such master contract it had reached this year including deals with the DGA, WGA, casting directors and two pacts with AFTRA.

As for SAG, its stance of insisting it’s entitled to sweeter terms than the other unions was bolstered Wednesday as the WGA blasted the AMPTP by accusing the companies of nonpayment of new-media residuals — an assertion denied by the companies, which said the WGA is wrong about the applicable dates in the contract.

Should the mediation fail, SAG’s negotiating committee could ask the guild’s 120,000 members for a strike authorization. That’s a potentially embarrassing step for guild leaders since members who cast ballots might might not back the authorization by the 75% level needed for the guild to go out on strike — particularly while the economy continues to implode.

Supporters of seeking the strike authorization have pointed to a September postcard poll of SAG members in which 87% of the respondents endorsed holding out for a better deal.

The final decision on striking would rest with the national board, in which control shifted to a more moderate faction in September elections. New York reps, who are part of that coalition, had sought mediation a month earlier but were spurned by SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg on grounds that mediation hadn’t worked during the WGA negotiations.

Gonzalez had no success a year ago when he was brought in as the mediator prior to the WGA strike. Thursday’s SAG-AMPTP session marked the one-year anniversary of the WGA’s solidarity march on Hollywood Boulevard, an event that drew about 4,000 supporters.

Should the mediation process crater, a SAG strike could be called as early as January. That could imperil the Jan. 11 Golden Globes — which saw this year’s awards show reduced to a news conference after SAG said its members would not cross WGA picket lines.

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