Strike deadline passes but Hollywood writers continue talks
Wednesday, May 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Negotiations between Hollywood screenwriters and producers and studio heads ended Wednesday morning without a new deal but with promises to resume talks, temporarily averting a strike that would halt TV and movie production.
The 17-hour bargaining session concluded about three hours after the writers' contract expired at 12:01 a.m. The contract was not extended, and both sides were expected back at bargaining table later Wednesday.
Writers Guild of America spokesman Cheryl Rhoden would not characterize the state of the negotiations. Both sides have imposed a news blackout.
``We're working very hard to reach an agreement,'' Rhoden had said shortly after midnight. Barbara Brogliatti, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, joined Rhoden for the announcement.
Fears of a walkout have gripped the industry for months, but the writers guild has yet to call for a strike vote from its members. Progress has been difficult to gauge because both sides have maintained a strict news blackout since negotiations resumed April 17.
With no word of an agreement, the next step was anyone's guess.
Both sides could choose to extend the contract and continue negotiations, and members of the writers guild could also vote in the days ahead to authorize a strike, which could draw more pressure for a settlement.
Before the news blackout, the two sides had yet to bridge a $100 million gap between their demands. Failure to make a deal could mean a strike that would halt movie and television production, possibly delaying the fall TV season.
Last year's record-length strike by commercial actors was a sign of the intense labor strains running throughout Hollywood. Many viewed it as a precursor of sorts to potential back-to-back strikes by mainstream writers and actors.
The contract with the two performer unions, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, ends June 30, just two months after the writers' contract deadline.
Analysts predicted a double strike would devastate the entertainment industry and delay the TV season and new movie releases even more.
A study commissioned by Mayor Richard Riordan found that prolonged strikes could cost the Los Angeles area's economy as much as $6.9 billion and result in as many as 130,000 lost jobs.
Talks between the writers and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers began Jan. 22.
A half-hour before the writers' contract expired Wednesday, a small group of screenwriters gathered for a candlelight vigil in front of guild headquarters, where the negotiations were being held.
``I'm just here to show my support,'' said Ali Rushfield, a writer for the upcoming Fox TV show ``Undeclared.'' ``We're also here to show we trust them.''
John Wells, president of the western unit of the writers guild, has demanded an average annual raise of about 3 percent for the guild's 11,500 members, amounting to $99.7 million over three years.
The producers alliance has said it cannot afford to meet all the writers' demands _ partly because of the turbulent labor climate.
The studio heads said every penny they would give the guild would equal a dime because the nearly 10 other Hollywood unions _ covering everything from crew workers to directors _ would demand similar increases.
Studios say growing competition in show business has made it more difficult to recoup the cost of producing movies and TV shows.
The last writer's strike occurred in 1988 and lasted 22 weeks, crippling television and movie production.
``I could last for a while,'' said Rushfield, the TV writer. ``Maybe for the length of a summer vacation.''