Actors Agreement In Works

Roz Savage
Roz Savage
Actors' unions have averted yearlong fears of a show business strike by accepting a tentative contract deal aimed at improving wages for little-known performers.

The three-year deal recommended Tuesday night by negotiators for the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists now must be approved by a majority of the unions' 135,000 members.

The deal will help "the middle-income actor, the actor that you all recognize but sometimes don't know their names," said Shelby Scott, federation president. "I think they will be pleased when they learn the details of this pact."

Scott said the proposal would be recommended to the joint boards of the unions next week. If they approve, union members would vote via mail-in balloting that could take several more weeks.

The tentative agreement is the second Hollywood labor deal in the past month. The Writers Guild of America settled its new contract in early June, and many analysts predicted that actors would follow suit.

The writers secured a 3.5 percent raise in minimum pay for movies and TV shows, and guild spokesman Greg Krizman said the actors' deal "was in that ballpark."

The deal includes higher pay for acting work in programs rebroadcast on cable, increased contributions to actor health plans and higher salaries for stunt coordinators and TV guest stars. The unions did not release specifics of the settlement.

Guild president William Daniels characterized the proposal as "equitable for both sides."

Nick Counter, president of the producers alliance, said his member companies unanimously approved the deal recommended by the actors.

A strike would have severely damaged the California and New York economies, costing billions of dollars in lost revenue.

Union negotiators said their top concern was increasing pay for the nearly 75,000 members who secure acting work in any given year.

About 6 percent of SAG members, the larger of the two unions, earn regular middle-class pay between $30,000 and $70,000 annually. About 71 percent earn less than $7,500 a year or nothing at all.

Only about 2 percent of the guilds' membership earn more than $100,000 a year, including multimillion-dollar celebrities such as Jack Nicholson and Russell Crowe.

Negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios and networks, began May 15 and progressed slowly until the final days before the contract expired at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

The actors' unions never called for a strike authorization vote, but fears of a walkout rumbled through the entertainment industry for much of last year when the robust economy prompted speculation that union demands would be steeper.

The fluctuating national economy has since cooled that sentiment and has been credited with pressuring both sides to reach a compromise without a work stoppage.

Last year, the actors' unions staged a six-month strike by commercial actors that mighhave driven as much as $1 billion worth of work overseas.

Uncertainty over the negotiations prompted studios to accelerate shooting on films currently in production, and Hollywood could still grind to a halt despite the agreement.

Producers will not start a new movie until an actor's deal is made final, and then it takes nearly eight weeks for the preproduction work to be completed.

Fall TV shows, which begin filming in the summer, probably won't be delayed if the guild members approve the deal.

By Anthony Breznican
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