SAG board rejects offer from studios

Will the CEOs parachute in, again?

That’s the question being pondered over Oscar weekend after SAG negotiations with the majors hit yet another impasse, leaving the guild with few options and killing industry hopes that the new regime would bring a swift end to the guild’s 8-month-old contract drama.

On Saturday night, the Screen Actors Guild national board voted by a 73% majority to reject the majors’ most recent take-it-or-leave-it offer.

The latest roadblock to a SAG deal — and labor peace in showbiz — is a matter of about eight months.

SAG maintains it was blindsided by the majors’ insistence that the deal’s expiration would be the full three years after the new deal is ratified, which would be March 2012 at the earliest. SAG wants the expiration to be June 30, 2011 — three years after its previous contract expired — to keep it in synch with the end dates of the WGA, DGA and AFTRA deals.

SAG hasn’t said anything officially, but the renewed stalemate makes it more likely the guild will press for the intervention of News Corp. prexy Peter Chernin and Walt Disney Co. CEO Robert Iger to become directly involved in talks. That would be a reprise of the roles the duo played a little more than year ago in helping craft new contracts with the DGA and WGA.

Chernin and Iger stepped away from the SAG talks last April after a single unproductive meeting with guild president Alan Rosenberg and former national exec director Doug Allen. It’s considered a longshot that Chernin and Iger, or any of the other conglom CEOs, would be willing to step into the fray.

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers insists it needs the stability of a full three-year pact and that SAG can’t be rewarded for letting eight months go by before signing a new deal. SAG is concerned about losing much of its leverage if its next pact expires months after the 2011 end dates of the current WGA, DGA and AFTRA contracts.

On Saturday, SAG’s national board also voted against the possibility of sending the deal as it stands to members for ratification. The board also spurned sending out a strike authorization to members, which would have needed a steep 75% endorsement from those members voting to pass.

Moreover, the new regime at SAG is highly unlikely to take the strike-threat route after board members just went to such great lengths to fire Allen last month because of his hardline insistence on seeking the strike vote.

But even if Chernin and Iger or others are willing to meet with Allen’s successors, interim exec director David White and senior adviser John McGuire, there’s no certainty that going the mogul route will yield a different result for SAG. The back-channel tactic is based on the assumption that the congloms would be willing to soften their hardline position on the length of the deal.

And it’s possible the CEOs would intervene for the sake of ending the town’s worries over slowing feature production and the global recession. But the abrasive language in statements issued by both sides Saturday indicates that a deal will probably remain out of reach anytime soon — even though SAG’s now making it clear it’s willing to accept the basic terms of the deals signed last year by the other unions.

“We simply cannot offer SAG a better deal than the rest of the industry achieved under far better economic conditions than those now confronting our industry,” the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers said.

SAG, meanwhile, complained it was blindsided by the AMPTP’s insistence on a 2012 expiration date.

“We entered this round of negotiations sending an unmistakably clear message that we were ready to make a deal,” SAG’s statement said. “In an effort to put the town back to work, our negotiator agreed to modify the guild’s bargaining position to bring the guild in line with the deals made by our sister unions. The AMPTP’s last-minute, surprise demand for a new term of agreement extending to 2012 is regressive and damaging and clearly signals the employers’ unwillingness to agree to the deal they established with other entertainment unions.”

The AMPTP responded by saying it has never changed its tune on the term of the deal.

“We have kept our offer on the table — and even enhanced it — despite the historically unprecedented economic crisis that has clobbered our nation and our industry,” the AMPTP said.

No further meetings have been scheduled, and SAG execs begin negotiations Monday in New York on a new commercials contract with a week blocked out for those talks.

The companies have told SAG that the new offer, made after three days of talks cratered over the expiration issue, could be withdrawn in 60 days. The AMPTP also said Thursday it would be willing to start negotiations on the successor contract no later than November 2010, which would allow SAG to get back into synch with the other unions on a contract that would expire in June 2014 — as long as SAG and AFTRA ratified those agreements by June 30, 2011.

Before the talks fell apart, SAG’s Saturday board meeting had been expected to mark the approval of a new deal. The failure of Allen to close the deal was the major reason the national board ousted him last month and replaced SAG’s previous negotiating committee with the task force.

Saturday’s meeting also saw SAG’s board approve White’s contract, a month after he was hired.

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