It’s been almost four months since the Screen Actors Guild’s (SAG) TV/Theatrical contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) expired. Despite forty-four days of negotiating, the two organizations have been unable to reach a new agreement. Talks between the organizations halted June 30, 2008, when Hollywood studios made a final offer. Due to the recent economic crisis, AMPTP is unlikely to put a better offer on the table any time soon.

SAG’s board of directors took the most recent step in ending the stalemate. During their recent quarterly meeting, the board of directors voted in favor of bringing a federal mediator into its contract negotiations with Hollywood studios. The Board also voted to ask SAG’s 120,000 members to authorize a strike if arbitration failed. Strike authorization would require a 75 percent vote of approval by SAG members.

It’s unlikely that the Board’s decision will break the stalemate quickly, as there is speculation that it will take weeks for SAG to petition the government and get a formal response from AMPTP. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service formally contacted AMPTP Monday. Sources say federal mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez, the same man who mediated talks between AMPTP and the Writers Guild of America prior to the writers’ strike, was the one who contacted the studios.

So what exactly will a federal mediator contribute to the negotiations? According to the Service’s website, mediators provide basic help by setting guidelines, addressing more complex issues, and handling media relations. Unfortunately, the question remains whether AMPTP will agree to SAG’s federal mediation proposal. In response to SAG’s recent decision, AMPTP made the following statement:

[T]here is simply no justification for SAG to expect a deal that is in excess of what the other Guilds negotiated in better economic times. No matter what SAG does – whether it be authorizing a strike or following a different approach – it will not change the harsh reality that currently confronts our industry.

Whether or not AMPTP agrees to federal mediation, it appears that no end to the contract dispute is in sight. Because SAG refuses to accept AMPTP’s offer and AMPTP remains unwilling to modify its offer, the most likely result without further intervention is a strike. So for now, enjoy the new episodes of your favorite TV shows– who knows how much longer you will have them!

Britt Doolittle

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