March 28, 2006

Newly militant actors union gains first TV deal

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In its first Hollywood labor deal
under a new, more militant leadership, the Screen Actors Guild
on Tuesday reached agreement with producers of cable television
cartoons on sharply increased pay for voice performers.

The tentative pact, raising by 20 percent the payments
actors earn for reruns of their work on basic-cable animated
shows, came after SAG moved a step closer toward a possible
showdown with producers over separate residuals paid for
live-action cable programs.

In a series of membership caucuses during the past week,
SAG's rank and file voted overwhelmingly to authorize union
leaders to call a strike in negotiations over the basic cable
contract covering such shows as "The Shield," "Monk" and

Negotiators for the guild and the industry, represented by
the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers,
resumed face-to-face talks on Tuesday for the first time in
about two weeks.

The strike authorization, which a guild source said was
endorsed by more than 90 percent of those voting, marks the
first such move since a strike vote paved the way for a bitter
six-month walkout against the advertising industry in 2001.

The effort to seek a strike authorization in cable TV talks
was the latest sign of the tougher bargaining stance asserted
by newly installed SAG President Alan Rosenberg and others who
gained control of the union last year.

In a statement posted on SAG's Web site, Rosenberg said he
hoped "to avoid any work interruption in pursuit of (an)
equitable deal."

Rosenberg, a TV actor best known for playing mild-mannered
attorneys on "L.A. Law" and "Civil Wars," was elected in
September to succeed former child star Melissa Gilbert, who led
a comparatively moderate rival faction that swept to power in
2001 after the commercials strike.

SAG, the nation's largest actors union, represents roughly
120,000 movie and TV performers ranging from stunt performers
and extras to major stars.

The tentative agreement on the contract governing animated
basic-cable shows like "SpongeBob SquarePants" was the first
deal negotiated under Rosenberg's leadership.

If approved by the guild's national board, the new cable
animation contract will be retroactive to January 1 and run
through June 20, 2008.

But the two sides remained at odds over terms of residuals
-- in this case payments earned for reruns -- under a separate
accord covering nearly 20 live-action series on basic cable.

Shows such as "The Sopranos" and "Huff" are not affected
because they are produced for pay-cable channels like HBO and

Producers have offered SAG residual increases amounting to
14 percent for live-action cable shows, but the union has
demanded higher gains, arguing that the basic cable industry as
a whole has seen its revenues rise by 500 percent since
residual payments for cable were last adjusted 16 years ago.

Industry executives argue that much of that growth has come
from sports channels such as ESPN and reality shows, rather
than live-action series covered under the contract.