ACTRA ready to strike

More than 97% voted in favor of striking

The union representing Canada’s actors is entering the last stage of its contract negotiations with producers today armed with an overwhelming strike mandate from its members.

More than 97% voted in favor of striking if the two sides, which have been locked in rancorous on-and-off talks since October, fail to reach an agreement before the current Independent Production Agreement expires Dec. 31.

The union says it will be in a legal strike position on Jan. 1.

“The overwhelming support of ACTRA members for their bargaining team puts our side in an excellent position to gain what our members need,” said Steve Waddell, national executive director and chief negotiator. “Producers began these negotiations with a hyper-aggressive series of proposals designed to strip performers’ pay and residuals and to break our union. Now we’re going to see if some days of relatively productive negotiating, plus the immediate prospect of a major industrial disruption, has changed the direction of these talks.”

The two sides have resolved a series of non-monetary matters, but the critical and most hotly contested issues remain in front of them. Producers initially called for significant wage rollbacks for most film and TV work and proposed a fee, residual and benefit scale for new media that led ACTRA to walk away from the table and call for mediation.

“It seems that they’re going after the poorest members of the whole industry, the Canadian actor,” said veteran thesp Eric Peterson, noting ACTRA members earn on average C$14,000 ($12,000) per year.

“I feel somewhat betrayed, because I have been totally willing to join with producers and try to make a better climate here,” added Peterson, who plays Oscar, the crusty dad, in the hit skein “Corner Gas.” “I have gone to Ottawa and asked for money for these guys, and they’ve turned around and said, ‘We’d like you to take a 5% to 25% reduction in pay.’ ”

The CFTPA said it is trying to get lower-budget new-media work into a ballpark producers can afford. Currently 80% of such fare is non-union produced.

ACTRA is asking for a 5% wage increase and 2% increase in benefits.

The two sides are skedded to talk today, Tuesday and Wednesday.