SAG, AFTRA make progress

Unions to meet to prep contract proposal

A week after reaching a surprisingly quick tentative deal on a commercials pact, AFTRA and SAG have taken the first step toward hammering out a film-TV contract proposal.

The unions, which negotiate jointly on the contract, announced Friday they will hold a dozen “wages and working conditions” meetings for members between Oct. 14 and Nov. 5 in Los Angeles along with several caucuses on specific areas of the contract.

Neither SAG nor AFTRA has yet set a date for starting negotiations with studios and nets to replace the current contract, which expires June 30. The ad contract’s biggest single gain came in a boost of producer contributions to the pension and health care plans, which have been forced to tighten eligibility and cut benefits this year, so the unions are likely to seek a similar hike in producer contributions in the film-TV pact.

Likely to wait

Despite the expressed preference by some execs and elected leaders for early talks, the performers unions are likely to wait until the Writers Guild of America — which faces a May 1 expiration — establishes its negotiating schedule. SAG and AFTRA followed that pattern three years ago, when the WGA went three days past expiration before reaching a deal, and the actors unions launched their bargaining a week later.

By waiting in 2001, SAG and AFTRA were able to achieve many of the same gains that had been reached in the WGA agreement: hikes in Fox Network residuals to full network rates; pension and health coverage for Internet work; payment of additional residuals for foreign TV when sales thresholds are met; and the assignment of the higher pay TV formula rather than the video formula for residuals in the fledgling movies-on-demand format.

That SAG-AFTRA agreement also came close to the writers’ deal on the percentage boosts in minimums. Actors got hikes of 3% in the first two years and 3.5% in the third, while the WGA received 3.5% increase in each year.

Actors also achieved a key boost in P&H contributions for cable work, bringing their formula in line with the WGA’s and the DGA’s; they also achieved a hike in film buyouts — the ceiling rate paid for an actor to be present throughout duration of the production.

No figures out

SAG and AFTRA have not released figures for how much members earn under the contract. In previous years, SAG has reported member earnings on the contract amounted to $1 billion annually but also noted the figure was based solely on earnings subject to pension and health contributions, which are capped at $250,000 for each member in each year.

As for the ad contract, actors are expected to begin receiving ratification ballots shortly. The current ad contract expires Oct. 29.

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