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Actors, studios end contract talks, hit new snag

THE largest US actors union and Hollywood's major studios yesterday ended three days of contract talks without a deal when a new problem developed in their long and troubled labor negotiations.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, said in a statement that it had made six new concessions to "sweeten the final offer" for the roughly 120,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild.

Sources with knowledge of the talks said progress was made on key issues, including how actors would be paid for work distributed on the Internet. But a new problem surfaced when the two sides could not agree on the start date of a new contract.

A SAG spokeswoman declined to comment, and an AMPTP spokesman would give no further details beyond the group's statement.

"The terms in the offer are the best we can or will offer in light of the five other major industry labor deals negotiated over the past year and the extraordinary economic crisis gripping the world economy," the AMPTP said.

Last year, the AMPTP was able to conclude labor contracts with Hollywood writers, directors and some non-SAG actors, but SAG members have been holding out for terms better than those offered to the other unions.

The AMPTP said its new "last, best and final offer" would be left open for 60 days. SAG is expected to present the offer to its national governing board at a meeting on Saturday.

The two sides have been in a stalemate since the old SAG contract expired on June 30, 2008. Since then, SAG has found itself divided internally with hard-liners calling for a strike authorization and moderates wanting to avoid one.

The internal strife led to the recent ouster of SAG's chief negotiator, Doug Allen, and the replacement of SAG's negotiating team by a new "task force," which renewed the long-stalled talks on Tuesday this week.

Details were scant on exactly what happened in the renewed talks, but sources said both parties showed a willingness to bend on key issues.

The AMPTP, however, wanted a new contract to start when it was signed. SAG, in keeping with past practice, wanted the start date to be retroactive to July 1, 2008.

The start date is important because it aligns the time period of SAG's contract more closely with the other guilds, which potentially could give it leverage in future contract negotiations.

Hollywood fears a work stoppage with the global recession sending media companies' earnings plunging and memories of the 2007/2008 screenwriters strike, which halted most TV production and cost the local economy some US$3 billion, fresh on the mind of the industry.


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