Hanks, Clooney, Streep, De Niro urge talks

Four of Hollywood’s most influential thesps — George Clooney, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep — are pressuring the Screen Actors Guild to launch its contract talks as soon as possible to avert a strike.

In an ad placed today in Daily Variety, the quartet asked SAG leaders to commit to negotiating a deal quickly. The move comes amid uncertainty created by SAG’s strong support for the WGA during its just-concluded 100-day strike, leading studios to place feature development on hold until SAG signs a deal.

SAG, which has not set talks and faces a June 30 contract expiration, issued a statement Wednesday asserting that it’s already been seeking out high-profile members as it preps for the talks, but the guild was vague as to when it will start.

“Our ongoing member outreach has included, and will continue to include, conversations with high-profile television and movie actors as well as input from our member-driven wages and working conditions committee meetings,” said SAG national exec director Doug Allen. “We are jointly conducting these wages and working conditions meetings with AFTRA. This process will conclude in the March. We will bargain with management at a time that will most benefit our members.”

Clooney brought the timing issue to light last week at the Oscar nominees luncheon when he expressed concern that some in SAG believe negotiating power increases by waiting as long as possible to start talks.

“I think there’s a lot of strike fatigue, and I think you actually start losing negotiating power,” he added. “I would hope we in the Screen Actors Guild get back to the table.”

These particular stars have usually avoided getting involved in SAG politics. Clooney and Hanks donated to the SAG Foundation’s relief fund during the 2000 strike against the ad industry, and Hanks delivered a well-received speech at a rally near the end of that job action.

AFTRA topper Kim Roberts Hedgpeth has disclosed that the unions — if they can sort out details of joint bargaining — are planning to be ready to start negotiations by March 31.

AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers will launch the Network TV Code negotiations Tuesday with the goal of concluding negotiations by March 7. The net code, which generates about $400 million in actor earnings annually, covers on-camera and off-camera talent in syndicated dramas, daytime serials, gameshows, talkshows, variety and musical programs, news, sports, reality shows and promotional announcements.

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