The Times West Virginian

Entertainment Today

June 8, 2009

Hollywood labor drama likely to fizzle Tuesday

LOS ANGELES — The credits are about to roll on a contract drama involving actors in Hollywood's biggest movies and TV shows, a fight that has left them bitterly divided and further behind than they started.

On Tuesday, the Screen Actors Guild will count ballots sent to 120,000 members on a new contract. The vote followed invective-laced infighting and drawn-out talks that failed to achieve goals set by SAG's now-replaced leaders to improve compensation for movies and TV shows that run on the Internet.

Hollywood actors seem split for and against the deal, while those based in New York are largely in favor. The outcome could depend on the votes of the vast majority of SAG members who are mostly actors without work.

Either result would have little short-term effect, because throughout the dispute, actors have continued to work under the conditions of their old contract. A strike threat diminished after moderates ousted the leadership of SAG in a boardroom coup early this year.

But a rejection of the contract risks driving the union into irrelevance. Already, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox have ordered new pilots and shows heavily under contracts with a smaller actors union, AFTRA. It ratified a similar contract deal nearly a year ago, giving studios certainty that SAG actors without a contract could not.

SAG's new contract, if approved, immediately raises the minimum pay of actors by 3 percent and another 3.5 percent in the second year of the deal. But actors lose out on the raises they would have gotten over the past year.

The studios had run an online wage clock showing the amount SAG actors had given up by failing to cut a deal last June, when the old contract expired. The clock would have hit nearly $79 million by Tuesday.

SAG was able to win a concession: The new contract will expire on June 30, 2011, about the same time as those of other unions, allowing SAG to maintain the future threat of a joint strike. That expiration date had been one of the final points of contention.

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