Hollywood in 'de facto strike' over actors' pay

The Hollywood film industry began a "de facto" strike Tuesday, with actors' guilds seeking higher pay for actors earning less than 100,000 dollars a year and greater new media rights.


Hollywood producers said Monday their industry was in a "de facto strike" as a deadline looked set to pass without a new deal with the main actors union, despite the union's call for more talks.

"Our industry is now in a de facto strike, with film production virtually shut down and television production now seriously threatened," the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) said in a statement.

The AMPTP said it presented its final offer to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the main union of US movie and television actors, on Monday after 42 days of negotiations on a new labor contract.

"In an effort to put everyone back to work, the AMPTP today presented SAG our final offer -- a comprehensive proposal worth more than 250 million dollars in additional compensation to SAG members, with significant economic gains and groundbreaking new media rights for all performers," it said.

The announcement came about four hours before the midnight (0700 GMT Tuesday) expiration of the three-year labor contract between the two sides.

However, the 120,000-strong SAG said it "remains committed to negotiating a fair deal for actors as soon as possible," and said it would study the "last-minute, 43-page offer" ahead of a meeting with AMPTP on Wednesday.

An initial examination suggested the text "does not appear to address some key issues," said SAG chief negotiator Doug Allen, saying it resembled a recent offer that was accepted by one actor's union but rejected by SAG.

Despite this, the union repeated an earlier call for all members to report to work and attend auditions until further notice.

On Sunday, SAG president Alan Rosenberg stressed there were no immediate plans to call a strike, saying: "Any talk about a strike or a management lockout at this point is simply a distraction."

But the industry daily Variety reported Monday that the simple fact of continuing talks was likely to see most production stop "due to the uncertainty of whether SAG will make a deal any time soon."

The situation has been complicated by a split between SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), with its 70,000 members, over a previous offer by the producers' alliance.

AFTRA has given a green light to the text but the SAG rejected it and has called on its 44,000 members who are also part of AFTRA not to ratify the deal.

The discord is pitting some well-known actors against one another: Tom Hanks, Kevin Spacey and Alec Baldwin support AFTRA's position, while Jack Nicholson and Ben Stiller are lined up behind SAG.

Last Thursday, actor George Clooney called for the two groups to unite, maintaining that the split only reinforces the position of the studios.

The screen actors are holding out for higher pay for "middle-tier" actors, artists earning less than 100,000 a year, and are seeking a greater cut of profits from sales of DVDs and new-media sales.

Studios have said the new actors' deal must follow a framework similar to agreements hashed out with screenwriters and directors unions earlier this year, and have accused SAG of making unreasonable demands.

They warned Monday that the economic consequences of a work stoppage "would be enormous," with SAG members losing 2.5 million dollars per day in wages if they decline to make a deal.

Last winter, a strike by screenwriters paralyzed Hollywood for 100 days and was the US entertainment industry's most damaging dispute for 20 years, costing an estimated two billion dollars.

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