Negotiations will start April 15

With Hollywood still recovering from the writers strike, the Screen Actors Guild has announced it will begin negotiations with the majors on April 15.

Tuesday night’s announcement signals that SAG will start contract talks ahead of AFTRA.

Talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers will take place at AMPTP headquarters in Encino.

With SAG’s current feature-primetime contract expiring June 30, the town has remained on yellow alert over fears that SAG could emulate the WGA and stage another strike. The guild was the WGA’s strongest supporter during its 100-day work stoppage; its leaders have insisted that the new contract needs to include significantly better terms than the WGA and DGA deals.

Tuesday’s news comes three days after the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists said it had split off from SAG for negotiations. SAG’s announcement did not address the issue of when AFTRA talks will take place, although that information expected to be revealed as early as today.

The AMPTP and AFTRA had no comment, but with the SAG talks starting in less than two weeks, it’s unlikely there would be enough time for AFTRA to negotiate its own deal before then — particularly since the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees is set for three days of contract talks next week with the AMPTP.

SAG’s announcement also made no mention of whether News Corp. prexy Peter Chernin and Disney topper Robert Iger would conduct informal talks with SAG prior to the official launch of bargaining on April 15. The two execs played major roles in crafting the outlines of the DGA and WGA deals and are expected to reprise those roles over the next several weeks.

Until the recent split with AFTRA, SAG had been unwilling to commit to a date — even though the AMPTP announced it was ready on Feb. 14 — because of the necessity to complete its preparations for bargaining on its own schedule. But after AFTRA ditched joint negotiations, SAG insisted that it should be first up because it covers all film work and the lion’s share of the primetime TV work under the current contract.

SAG national exec director and chief negotiator Doug Allen issued a brief comment as part of Tuesday’s announcement: “Now that we have concluded our Wages and Working Conditions process and the SAG National Board has approved our proposal package, we look forward to productive negotiations.”

In another development, SAG and AFTRA leaders put aside their differences temporarily on Tuesday to tout their support for a labor solidarity march from Hollywood to San Pedro.

SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg and AFTRA Los Angeles president Ron Morgan appeared at a news conference to build awareness for the “March From Hollywood to the Docks” that will start April 15 next to the La Brea Tar Pits and conclude two days later with a rally at the Port of Los Angeles.

The march, organized by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, is timed to highlight the fact that more than 350,000 workers belonging to 30 local unions will renegotiate their union contracts during the next year. SAG reps about 120,000 members, including about 75,000 in Hollywood, while AFTRA has about 70,000 members; the two unions have 40,000 dual cardholders.

During Tuesday’s news conference, Rosenberg and Morgan refrained from any attacks and professed the importance of union solidarity in pushing forward on bread-and-butter issues such as wages, health-care coverage and retirement. Morgan, who’s also veep of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, noted that AFTRA has already negotiated its network code and sound recordings deals this year.

Asked about the contradiction of professing unity in the wake of the ongoing jurisdictional battle, Morgan said, “This is a really good example of us being civil to each other while trying to do what’s best for our members and not attacking each other.”

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