SAG talks could signal movement

Actors, advertisers closer to table

Informal talks between striking actors and advertisers resumed Tuesday, giving hope that the two sides may be making progress toward returning to the bargaining table for the first time in two months.

Federal mediators dismissed negotiators Tuesday evening after nine hours of talks, but left the door open for a recall of both sides at an undetermined later date.

“The talks were very businesslike and went pretty much as we expected,” said Ira Sheppard, a negotiator for the advertisers.

The talks were held at the Sheraton Manhattan in New York at the behest of federal mediators. Both sides aired specifics of negotiating positions as a possible prelude to restarting formal negotiations.

More talks had been tentatively scheduled for today, but mediators apparently decided they had obtained enough information to put the process on hold for now. Sheppard said the decision to forgo talks today should not be taken as a negative indication, adding, “It’s difficult to read much into the situation.”

Sheppard said most of Tuesday’s talks involved mediators meeting with each side individually rather than holding face-to-face talks between the two sides. “Everyone has been very cordial to each other,” he added.

The actors were repped by Screen Actors Guild president William Daniels, SAG chief negotiator John McGuire, SAG 11th VP David Jolliffe, American Federation of Television & Radio Artists prexy Shelby Scott and AFTRA chief negotiator Mathis Dunn.

Many observers believe that the strike, now in its 45th day, could last for several more months if mediators cannot convince both sides to compromise from their militant public positions.

To pressure advertisers, about 1,000 union members attended a raucous rally at SAG’s Los Angeles headquarters Tuesday with fiery speeches by several dozen high-profile members, many of whom stressed the crucial difference commercials pay makes for struggling actors.

Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss said the strike is being closely watched by studios and producers who want to low-ball actors in next year’s negotiations on the SAG/AFTRA television-theatrical contract, which expires in July 2001.

“If we weaken now, they will expect us to weaken next year,” he said. “This industry is squeezing those who can least afford it. How can we be offered pay cuts in this robust economy?”

Advertisers have insisted that they can no longer afford to pay residuals for network ads. Steve Allen, who received a standing ovation, stressed that actors are asking for fair compensation in light of growing corporate profits.

“Actors are not asking for any special favors,” he added. “They are asking only for social justice.”

Other speakers included Noah Wyle, Elliott Gould, Amy Brenneman, Tony Danza, Valerie Harper, Buddy Hackett, Billy Baldwin, Joe Pantoliano, Alfre Woodard, Harry Hamlin, Tyne Daly and Sally Kirkland.

The unions will hold a noon rally today in New York’s Bryant Park with Susan Sarandon, Oliver Platt, Lauren Bacall, Linda Fiorentino and Judd Hirsch expected to attend.

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