Upcoming sessions to focus on possible deals

With feature-primetime negotiations moving into a critical second week, the Screen Actors Guild and the majors continued to supply tiny doses of optimism that a thesp strike can be averted this summer.

Negotiators spent Monday in caucuses at the headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers with neither side commenting — as has been the policy since talks began April 15. In a joint statement issued in the early evening, the two sides said they would return to the bargaining table today.

The announcement’s a sign that both sides have been honing revised proposals, with the hard bargaining expected to take place over the rest of the week. Some 60-70 reps have been attending each session.

The lack of saber-rattling has somewhat eased the town’s fears of a strike, which still could start as soon as the SAG contract expires on June 30. Apprehension remains because while SAG and the congloms have remained buttoned down publicly, several people close to the talks have indicated that wide gaps remain between the two sides.

Still, the absence of heated rhetoric offers a vivid contrast to the vitriol-drenched atmosphere that pervaded Hollywood during last year’s negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and the AMPTP. The majors opened those negotiations last July by offering the WGA a choice between a multiyear study with a contract extension and a profit-based residuals system.

When the WGA dismissed both proposals out of hand, the AMPTP began blasting away, calling the writers union “bellicose.” That prompted the WGA to assert it could not trust the companies’ math and to stage a news conference to denounce the AMPTP after the second day of negotiations; the two sides didn’t meet again for two months.

SAG is believed to have set aside a strike fund of about $3 million, but the guild’s leaders have not yet scheduled a strike authorization vote for its 120,000 members. The WGA announced a strike vote in early October after it and the AMPTP had repeatedly hammered each other over the lack of progress at negotiations; more than 90% of WGA members voted to give their leaders the right to call a strike.

SAG’s scheduled to negotiate only until this Saturday before AFTRA begins its talks next Monday. So this week’s sessions will be critical in revealing whether SAG leaders want to make a deal following a week devoted to laying the groundwork for a possible agreement.

If SAG doesn’t have a deal done this week, it’s expected that AFTRA will be able to reach an agreement quickly on its handful of primetime shows. And that’s a spur for SAG to complete its work since AFTRA could start signing up new shows once it has a deal in hand.

AFTRA’s negotiating on its own for the first time in 27 years, following a bitter split with SAG in late March over actors on “The Bold and the Beautiful” seeking to decertify from AFTRA and sign with SAG.

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