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Feds step in on strike talks

No date set, but any movement is an improvement

Federal mediators are attempting to re-launch contract negotiations between striking actors and advertisers although no date has been set.

Still, the possible resumption of talks could mark the first positive movement toward ending what has become the longest strike ever by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists.

John McGuinn, chief negotiator for the advertisers, said reps from the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service have contacted both sides in recent days to nail down what would be the first meeting of negotiators since July 21. Those previous talks collapsed after two days of limited bargaining amid accusations of inflexibility by both sides.

Mathis Dunn, chief negotiator for AFTRA, said it is uncertain whether the upcoming talks will be formal negotiations or informal discussions.

“Right now, the format is a gray area,” he added. “Hopefully, both sides will be open to negotiations to get our differences resolved. We’re working to find a mutually acceptable date and we hope it’s sooner rather than later.”

McGuinn said advertisers have not changed their bargaining position, which calls for elimination of network residuals, and rejects demands by the actors for cable residuals, a monitoring system and Internet jurisdiction.

In another sign of possible movement, the unions’ joint negotiating committee is scheduled to meet today at SAG’s Los Angeles headquarters.

No change

The ad industry’s Joint Policy Committee has not altered its stance since making a final offer in mid-April, two weeks before the unions struck. SAG and AFTRA negotiators have blasted the JPC for its refusal to budge over the past four months, and pointed out that the unions modified their cable proposal at the July negotiations.

The differences between the actors and advertisers have been so deep that the July meetings have represented the only negotiations since the strike started on May 1. Reps for both sides met with mediators for a day in mid-June, but could not find enough common ground for a formal re-launch of bargaining at that point.

The ad industry has insisted it is shooting ads — either with non-union actors or dispensing with talent entirely — at a comparable rate to pre-strike levels but union leaders have said both quality and quantity of spots have nose-dived. Union actors received an average of $2 million a day for work in ads last year.

“Commercial production is taking place virtually unimpeded by the strike,” the Assn. of National Advertisers proclaimed this week.

Multi-pronged attack

As the strike enters its 108th day, SAG and AFTRA remain active on the PR front with organizers in Detroit planning a multi-union attack on General Motors Corp. in the coming days because of the automakers’ non-union ads. GM angered activists by persuading Tiger Woods to shoot a non-union Buick ad two weeks ago, prompting actors to protest Woods’ decision during the recent Buick Open golf tournament.

Hollywood SAG and AFTRA members leafleted Tuesday at a pair of events tied to the second day of the Democratic Convention — a California Women Vote 2000 fundraiser at the Regent Beverly Wilshire and a downtown march with the United Teachers of Los Angeles.

The unions also attacked AT&T in today’s Los Angeles Times. SAG and AFTRA placed a full-page ad with the headlines “AT&T: The Wrong Choice,” “AT&T is unfair to working actors” and “AT&T wants to cut actors out of the Internet.”

The telecommunications giant has been a popular target of SAG and AFTRA because of its refusal to sign interim agreements to shoot ads with union actors. New York members plan to picket AT&T facilities in Manhattan today.

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