Actors Union Moves Closer to Strike Vote

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Screen Actors Guild's negotiating committee voted Wednesday to support a strike authorization vote, a tactic meant to break stalled contract talks with Hollywood studios.

The recommendation, approved 11-2, now goes to the guild's national board for review, and would ultimately need approval of 75 percent of the some 120,000 voting guild members.

"My personal opinion is, yes, we will achieve a strike authorization," said Anne Marie Johnson, a spokeswoman for Membership First, a faction of actors that had controlled SAG's national board until it narrowly lost its majority in elections last month.

"Membership First has always been a strong advocate of having a strike authorization with us while we're negotiating," Johnson said. "That's really a wise way to negotiate."

Contract talks dealing with prime-time TV shows and movies have been at a standstill since the previous contract expired June 30.

Actors have been working under the terms of the old deal in hopes of avoiding a repeat of a 100-day writers strike that ended in February. The strike shut down production of dozens of TV shows and cost the Los Angeles area economy an estimated $2.5 billion.

The studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, said the economy is in trouble and urged actors not to strike.

"It is unrealistic for SAG negotiators now to expect even better terms during this grim financial climate," the AMPTP said in a statement. "This is the harsh economic reality, and no strike will change that reality."

The SAG's national board, a 71-member body, is scheduled to meet Oct. 18. A simple majority is needed to approve the call for a strike vote.

The guild on Monday called for talks to resume, sending the request in a letter addressed to the alliance, The Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger and News Corp.'s Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin.

The producers' chief negotiator, J. Nicholas Counter III, said he declined to resume talks because SAG continues to insist on terms the companies have rejected.

The guild wants union coverage of all shows made for the Internet, regardless of budget, and residual payments for actors on made-for-Internet shows that are reused on the Internet. It also demands protections for actors during work stoppages.

The alliance has stuck by a final offer it made June 30, which it said mirrored deals accepted by directors, a smaller actors union called the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and writers following their strike.

The producers have said the proposal is worth $250 million in additional compensation over three years, a figure SAG disputes.

As of Aug. 15, the alliance withdrew an offer to backdate the increases to July 1, and, according to its Web site, actors had lost some $21 million in increases by Wednesday night by not approving the deal.

Last month, 87 percent of the 10,300 actors who responded to a guild survey backed its leaders' drive for a better deal. The producers alliance called the survey materials "hopelessly one-sided."

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