Writers' union, producers to resume labor talks

Tuesday, April 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Nearly six weeks after talks broke down, the Hollywood writers' guild will resume face-to-face contract negotiations with producers next week, both sides announced Monday.

The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said they will meet April 17 at the writers' headquarters in Los Angeles.

Concerns about a nationwide economic slowdown hastened the return to the table, with both sides wary of the financial strains a walkout could place on the entertainment industry and the people who work in it.

However, studios should not use the shaky market as an excuse to cry poverty, said Cheryl Rhoden, spokeswoman for the WGA.

``Historically, the entertainment industry has not been impacted as strongly by economic slowdowns,'' she said. ``It has consistently remained on the leading edge of economic recovery.''

Barry Liden, spokesman for the producers' alliance, said the producers recognize that the economic climate is changing, but added that the rising cost of movie and TV show production and shrinking audiences have made it harder for studios to profit.

``We have always tried to emphasize that there are a lot of changes facing the industry, and tried to stress the importance of making a reasonable and appropriate contract agreement,'' Liden added.

The current contract for the WGA's 11,000 members expires May 1.

The Screen Actors Guild contract ends two months later, prompting concerns about potential back-to-back strikes that could delay the fall TV season and curtail new movie releases.

Talks between writers and producers began Jan. 22 but halted March 1 amid disagreements over how much residual pay studios owe writers when films or television shows are distributed internationally or rebroadcast domestically.

The WGA also said it wasn't satisfied that the producers failed to offer increases in videocassette or DVD residuals.

John Wells, president of the western unit of the WGA, has said Hollywood writers earned about $1.2 billion in 2000 and are demanding a $99.7 million increase over three years, or an average annual raise of about 3 percent.

The producers alliance has said the demands will raise not only the minimum wage-standards, but also boost compensation for the highest-paid writers. That would amount to an unacceptable $227.4 million increase over three years, according to the producers.

Also Monday, Mayor Richard Riordan announced a public relations campaign to pressure the adversaries to reach an agreement by highlighting the harm a walkout would do to jobs outside the entertainment industry.

``I think they owe it to the people of the city to not have a strike,'' Riordan told a news conference.

The nonprofit Los Angeles County Development Corp. has said a strike would mean losses of about $457 million a week for Hollywood and related businesses in Southern California.