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SAG stays in stall mode

Guild remains unswayed by growing pressure

The SAG standoff shows no signs of any quick resolution.

Amid the town’s growing consensus that the Screen Actors Guild is not going to strike, SAG is staying in stall mode. The guild offered no response to the congloms’ latest effort to dial up the pressure by warning that they may have to scale back their final offer if the economy worsens.

SAG has remained unswayed by such moves. Guild leaders haven’t moved toward a strike authorization amid signs they would probably not be able to achieve the required 75% support level to stage a walkout.

SAG’s leaders are expected to reiterate today their insistence that they still want to negotiate further on the majors’ final offer — even though the companies pulled the plug June 30 when SAG’s feature-primetime contract expired.

The stalemate’s likely to persist for several more weeks at least. The two sides can’t even agree on how to characterize the current situation.

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers has told SAG explicitly the final offer is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition that won’t be revised. SAG continues to insist that its refusal to accept the AMPTP deal does not amount to a rejection; furthermore, it contends that its presentation of counterproposals constitutes bargaining despite the AMPTP’s denials.

SAG national exec director Doug Allen has seized on the notion that SAG hasn’t rejected the final offer. “We significantly narrowed the gap between us while remaining committed to the principles of our bargaining priorities,” he said Friday.

In response, the AMPTP said SAG has badly misinterpreted the situation. “A counterproposal to a final offer is a rejection of the final offer,” said spokesman Jesse Hiestand. “It can’t be anything else.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Friday he’d be willing to get involved, but made it clear that he had not been contacted by either side.

“If someone asks me to help, I would be more than happy to,” Schwarzenegger said during a news conference at the Kodak Theater to tubthump antismoking PSAs.

Schwarzenegger reiterated his belief that for the sake of California’s economy and for showbiz, “It’s very important (for the sides) to come to an agreement as quickly as possible. The last thing we need is another strike.”

SAG had no comment about Schwarzenegger’s offer or the prospect of a possible reduction in terms, news of which came in closing remarks Thursday from Carol Lombardini, exec VP of the AMPTP.

“It is no secret that we are in a deteriorating economy,” Lombardini said. “Our companies are not immune from the effects of this economic slowdown. It is very possible that, as a result of changing economic conditions, we will have to reevaluate the offer we have on the table.”

She reminded SAG that further delays will imperil about $10 million in retroactive pay that thesps would receive if the pact’s ratified by Aug. 15. And she noted that the uncertainty will continue to impact ongoing production with each feature that doesn’t go forward resulting in fewer jobs and lost earnings for actors.

“The risks are even greater in television,” Lombardini added. “Continued uncertainty over contract status further jeopardizes scripted programming.”

SAG has insisted that it deserves a better deal than the DGA, WGA and AFTRA in such areas as new-media jurisdiction and DVD residuals.

But Lombardini stressed that the congloms will not improve their offer.

“I can tell you that, for us, this isn’t the best deal,” she said. “There are many areas of our business that need to be addressed that this contract does not fix. But we believe, putting our wishes and desires aside, that this is the best deal we can achieve with you.”

The AMPTP has asserted that the offer’s worth $250 million in salary gains to SAG members over three years, but Allen has disputed that estimate. SAG president Alan Rosenberg has said it would be a waste of time for guild leaders to accede to the majors’ request that the offer be sent to the guild’s 120,000 members.

“We can’t recommend a deal that they won’t approve,” he said last week.

However, actors might approve the deal. SAG campaigned extensively to persuade the 44,000 SAG members who belong to AFTRA to vote down AFTRA’s primetime deal, but the deal was ratified with 62% support. The ballot went out to 70,000 AFTRA members.

And in interviews Friday at TCA, a trio of high-profile SAG members responded cautiously when asked about the guild’s position — a marked contrast to the attitude among scribes last fall.

“I hope it doesn’t come to vote for a strike, because I’m afraid that we’ll go out on strike,” Dennis Hopper said.

Don Cheadle evinced a little more concern about the contract terms at stake but was still quite cautious on the strike front.

“These residuals, that’s our lifeblood for actors. I hope we’re able to come to some sort of agreement without calling for a strike. A great number of people in the city hope that it comes out that way as well. It’s not just the actors that are going to be hurt if this happens — caterers, cleaners, restaurants, valets — everybody really takes a big hit.”

“Let’s settle this strike,” said Shirley MacLaine. “Let’s think about other people. Let’s think about the problems and the people who will be very, very badly suffering if this strike occurs.”

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