No time for a strike amid shaky economy

Consider the following: At a time when the nation’s financial institutions are teetering on the brink of collapse, a major talent guild in Hollywood is threatening a strike.

Is this real or is this science fiction?

Facing a black hole in the economy, the moment has clearly arrived when management and the Screen Actors Guild must sign off on a new contract and the town must try to get back to normal. Equally important, the mega-companies that own Hollywood along with the talent guilds must figure how to conduct a productive dialogue so that the traumas of the past year will not be revisited in the future.

The downside is that the guilds will be further radicalized and that meaningful negotiation will be even more incendiary.

Just as the nation’s economy is in turmoil, so Hollywood’s economy, too, has gone through a disastrous period. Despite the spin, the basic reality of the writers strike is that both sides lost. Here was a perfect model of the wrong negotiation at the wrong time.

There was a period not that long ago, when labor and management identified key issues and started negotiations a year in advance amid a cone of silence. There were real talks, not rhetoric.

This year the two sides have been posturing, not negotiating, and the net result is the present stalemate.

The studios are sitting down with SAG this afternoon in an off-the-record session that more reflects the practices of the past. The obvious question is this: Will the companies throw a bone to SAG to facilitate a compromise? Or at the very least, by agreeing to submit the deal to SAG membership, the guild could realize the retroactivity clauses offered by management (that deadline is Aug. 15).

At stake is a potential end to the present de facto strike. Having faced earlier disruption, the TV business is regaining its momentum while the feature business still struggles. Unemployment is rife and, given the dire state of the economy, Hollywood faces stressful times.

Hollywood’s success traditionally has depended on a unique partnership between the numbers guys and the talent guys.

That sense of collaboration must be restored. For that to happen, both sides must “get real” at the bargaining table this week.

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