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SAG, studios agree to meet

Guild may be willing to end delay

In a sign that SAG may be edging toward closing a feature-primetime deal, negotiators for the guild and the majors have agreed to a meeting today.

SAG, which sought the get-together, is playing it close to the vest as to the purpose of the meeting — officially a “sidebar” that’s off the record and will involve a small group from each side.

But the session could help negotiators hammer out a few face-saving tweaks — mostly in non-economic areas — that would enable SAG leaders to support the final offer or at least send it to members without trashing it. The session could also lead to bringing in Disney chief Robert Iger and News Corp. president Peter Chernin to close the deal or enlisting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who recently said he’d be willing to intervene as a mediator if asked.

Still, no one from the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers will be surprised if SAG continues to stall. SAG’s public posture for the past two weeks has been to blast the final offer — while insisting it hasn’t actually rejected the deal — and propose counteroffers in hopes that the congloms will budge from their oft-repeated position that the June 30 final offer won’t be revised.

The 1 p.m. meeting comes with SAG running out of time and options, given that it’s increasingly unlikely to seek a strike authorization from members. Should the deal not be ratified by Aug. 15, SAG members would see $10 million in salary hikes disappear; in addition, with AFTRA’s week-old deal in place, SAG’s running the risk that its jurisdiction over primetime will erode.

SAG had no comment Tuesday other than to confirm that the meeting had been set, while the AMPTP said the meeting does not signify that it’s reopening negotiations.

“Out of respect for the SAG membership, the AMPTP has agreed to the meeting but has made it clear that the meeting will be solely for the purpose of listening to whatever SAG has to say,” the AMPTP said in a statement. “It is important to note that SAG has declined to specify the purpose of the meeting, and that AMPTP continues to call on SAG’s Hollywood leaders to accept AMPTP’s final offer.”

Today’s meeting will be the first get-together between the congloms and SAG since six days ago, when the two sides held a typically unproductive session.

That confab concluded with the companies warning SAG that they may reduce terms of the deal should economic conditions worsen. For its part, SAG had insisted that it could not accept the final offer — which matches the AFTRA, DGA and WGA deals — and continued to demand an increase in DVD residuals plus jurisdiction over all new-media productions.

SAG president Alan Rosenberg has publicly disdained the majors’ request to send out their final offer to the 120,000 guild members, asserting that the members would not approve the pact. SAG national exec director Doug Allen repeated that contention at Monday’s meeting of the Hollywood board of directors.

Rosenberg and Allen have given no indication that SAG’s going to ask its members for a strike authorization. It’s questionable whether the guild would achieve the 75% support level needed for a work stoppage due to the combo of a souring economy plus leftover fatigue from the WGA strike.

The AMPTP’s stressed that SAG’s responsible for a de facto strike given that most major studio features have closed down due to the uncertainty over SAG’s contract. But more than a dozen TV series have continued to shoot, and producers are considering firing up features again under terms and conditions of the expired contract.

SAG has issued more than 500 waivers to indie features under which companies agree to observe the terms of SAG’s new deal.

SAG’s national board is due to meet July 26, and if it agrees to send the deal to members, it would give thesps enough time to ratify the deal by Aug. 15 — the deadline set by the AMPTP to ratify the pact in order for members to receive about $10 million in pay retroactive to July 1.

AFTRA members approved their primetime deal a week ago in a 62% endorsement in the wake of an aggressive “vote no” campaign by SAG. Ballots went out to 70,000 AFTRA members, 44,000 of whom also belong to SAG.

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