Actors put off strike threat

Contract extended, pay hike still in question

Union actors pulled back Friday from the threat of a strike against advertisers when both sides agreed to extend the current three-year contract four hours before its midnight expiration.

Negotiators announced in a joint statement that they would take a 10-day recess in contract talks and resume negotiations on April 10 in New York City.

Both sides agreed to an open-ended extension of the contract, meaning that members of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists will remain on the job unless the upcoming talks collapse.

The announcement gave no details as to how close negotiators are to reaching a deal, saying only “Union and management are continuing to work toward an agreement.”

Sticking points

The talks opened on Feb. 14 with unions contending that compensation for TV and radio ads has not kept pace with the increased profits for advertisers in recent years. Advertisers, represented by the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies and the Assn. of National Advertisers, have contended that acceding to union demands would be prohibitively expensive and represent a 25% boost to current annual compensation of $721 million.

Actors are seeking a “per-use” structure for payment in cable ads while advertisers want to continue paying a flat rate with unlimited use for cable and impose a similar system for broadcast TV ads.

John McGuinn, chief negotiator for the advertisers, had offered a gloomy outlook Thursday in a presentation at an ANA meeting. He said both sides were far apart on key issues such as the structure of residuals, Internet payments and the union’s demands for worldwide jurisdiction and a 20% increase in base pay.

SAG and AFTRA had given their negotiating team a strike authorization last week. Both organizations are expected to schedule special national board meetings this week to meet with their negotiating team.

Not the first time

The decisions to extend the existing contract and recess the talks have a precedent. In the March 1997 negotiations, the contract extension came the day before the contract expired and the talks were recessed for two weeks. Negotiators then needed another week to reach a tentative deal.

The last actors’ strike took place in 1988 after the commercials contract expired and lasted for 18 days. If the talks were to collapse, the unions would need about two weeks before stopping work because a strike would require approval by both national boards.

Advertisers had insisted they would continue with business as usual by using non-union talent in the event of a strike.

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