Hollywood’s labor crisis hits ground zero today, the final day before the Writers Guild of America’s film-TV contract expires.

WGA leaders have alerted members that they should expect a pair of crucial developments no later than tonight — a final offer from the companies and a response to that offer from the WGA negotiating committee.

“Sometime in the next two days, the committee will decide on its recommendation based on the terms of the companies’ final offer,” the leaders said in a message late Sunday. “We are working hard in the hope we will not have to ask you to make the decision to authorize a work stoppage.”

The letter was signed by WGA West prexy John Wells, WGA East prexy Herb Sargent, WGA West exec director John McLean and WGA East exec director Mona Mangan.

Reps for the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers had no comment on the message as negotiations and the news blackout continued. Late Monday, reps had sent out for dinner and talks had not recessed as several news vans kept vigil outside WGA West’s Hollywood headquarters, site of the negotiations.

Labor observers noted that the decision to take talks down to the wire is not a surprise, as many negotiators often wait until a few hours to deadline to get to serious dealmaking.

Range of issues

Sources said Monday the talks covered the complete range of issues, with a similar full day of negotiations expected today. Speculation emerged that “movies on demand” has become a potential problem due to disagreements over classifying the format.

The current contract will expire at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday but could be extended by as much as a few days if negotiators are making progress.

The announcement of an expected final offer means, however, that there is little possibility the May 2 contract expiration will be extended, as many hoped, to match the June 30 expiration date for the SAG/AFTRA film-TV contract.

The WGA leaders did not address the extension issue but noted the guild has not yet set the date for a strike authorization vote. And in a move to address uncertainty among members, WGA leaders advised them to keep working if employed.

“Until and unless a strike is authorized and actually called, you should continue to write if you are employed,” the leaders said.

They also acknowledged the strain that the negotiations have created: “These are difficult days, even more so for all of you who must wait to hear if we have made progress. We know that the news blackout has made waiting tough, but productive talks at the bargaining table are more likely to occur if we continue the blackout until the conclusion of the talks.”

Wells, Sargent, McLean and Mangan also defended use of the blackout, saying: “These are difficult negotiations. It is critical that the two sides meet in trust and mutual respect. That cannot happen if we’re engaged in a war of words in the media.”

The leaders also noted that a strike order cannot be issued until the members reject the final offer and grant the negotiating committee strike authorization. “Our goal is to improve economic and creative conditions that have not been addressed in decades,” they added. “If we are successful, our new contract would recognize major market changes and result in advances for writers. Your continued support is critical to our efforts.”

Mayor optimistic

Also on Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan remained optimistic that a strike can be averted through compromise. In his fourth news conference in 12 days, Riordan assembled a group of local business leaders to detail negative economic impacts of writers and actors strikes.

Greg Lippe of the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn. warned that work stoppages will accelerate runaway production from the region, while Jack Serenback of the California Restaurant Assn. predicted huge losses in his sector due to declines in catering and business entertainment.

Riordan, who leaves office in July, launched a strike-avoidance PR effort two week ago by issuing a study forecasting $6.9 billion in local losses from a five-month WGA strike and three-month actors strike.

Riordan also predicted Monday that a SAG strike will not occur, citing recent meetings with AMPTP chief Nick Counter and SAG prexy William Daniels. “I think there is a willingness to make a deal,” he said.