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Fast walk to guild talks

Actors, writers in rush to start negotiations

The race to the negotiating table is on between Hollywood’s writers and actors.

Rather than wait for the WGA to conclude a deal this spring, leaders of SAG and AFTRA told studios and nets Sunday they’re ready to start bargaining immediately on their film-TV pact. The WGA — whose contract expires May 2, two months earlier than that of the actors unions — took a similar step last week when it announced member approval of its “pattern of demands.”

The scenario contrasts sharply with that of 2001, when SAG and AFTRA leaders held off starting negotiations until the WGA had hammered out an agreement, three days after the writers’ contract expiration. That strategy reflected an attempt by union leaders to maximize the leverage from a possible work stoppage — a threat that led to extensive stockpiling and production speed-ups by companies in the first half of 2001.

Although the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers had no comment Sunday, the developments mean that the AMPTP — which serves as the negotiating arm for studios and nets — has been given much of the power to dictate the schedule of upcoming negotiations. Industry sources believe a likely scenario would be that both sets of negotiations could start as early as next month, though it’s improbable that sessions for both WGA and SAG/AFTRA would be held on the same days.

The WGA has been aggressive in spelling out which areas need improvement, focusing on DVD residuals, health care and jurisdiction. SAG and AFTRA have not indicated what they are seeking and continued that low-key approach Sunday.

“Today’s action comes after months of thoughtful and careful deliberation by wages and working conditions committees throughout the country,” said SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert and AFTRA president John Connolly. “Our joint board has endorsed the priorities established by the members who work under every provision of these important contracts. We stand ready to begin negotiations and look forward to a successful bargaining process.”

The WGA had no comment on the SAG-AFTRA announcement or on a recent Los Angeles Times report questioning the veracity of statements made by new WGA West president Charles Holland about his college football career and military service. The WGA West board elevated Holland from VP to the presidency Jan. 7 after Victoria Riskin stepped down due to findings by an investigator that her active membership had lapsed when she ran for office.

The WGA also said Holland had no comment about the report.

(Claude Brodesser contributed to this report.)

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