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Unions ratify $200 million no-DVD deal

SAG and AFTRA members have ratified a new three-year deal covering film and primetime TV with a 76.5% endorsement that includes an estimated $200 million in gains but no advances on DVD residuals.

Approval of the new pact, which goes into effect July 1, had been expected in spite of intense opposition that sought to send negotiators back to the table for a better deal. Proponents contended the new pact represented the best deal available, and argued that a “no” vote could result in either a lesser deal or a work stoppage.

“This contract represents a victory for solidarity, strategy and good sense,” said AFTRA prexy John Connolly in a statement issued Monday. “The majority of the negotiating committee kept their eyes on the real prize, which was to keep actors working and keep cameras rolling. The members then concurred with their votes.”

The WGA gave a similar 74% endorsement of their three-year deal in November despite opposition over the lack of gains in DVD residuals.

The performers unions reached their deal Jan. 20 after a joint SAG-AFTRA committee voted 17-9 to endorse the agreement, with eight of the nine “no” votes coming from the SAG side. Opponents contended negotiators hadn’t battled hard enough, since the agreement included no gains on the DVD side, only 3% gains in minimums and a concession on primetime series with no residuals for regulars on reruns of the first three episodes for a 60-day window.

SAG’s leaders insisted they kept DVD on the table until the final hours of negotiations. They argued members were not willing to strike due to memories of the six-month stoppage against the ad industry in 2000, the hostile climate toward unions, the specter of the five-month supermarket strike of 2003-04 and ongoing economic uncertainty.

The SAG-AFTRA joint board allowed opposing statements to be included in the ballots. Membership First’s opposing statement called the pact “too little, too soon” and accused SAG and AFTRA leaders of having “lost all credibility” for not demanding hikes in DVD residuals. It also decried the unions’ proposed across-the-board increases in minimum wages as “the lowest ever” when compared with the rising cost of living in New York and Los Angeles, and berated the concession of forsaking residuals on the re-airing of a primetime scripted show’s pilot and first two episodes.

On the pro side, SAG president Melissa Gilbert and Connolly defended their decision to forsake primetime residuals on the first three episodes of new, scripted shows as a “short term sacrifice … necessary for long-term gain” and insisted that “the continued growth of reality TV represents the real rollback.” SAG and AFTRA’s elected leadership also defended making the deal five months before expiration, with the reasoning that maximum leverage would come when producers want to avoid preparing for a strike by stockpiling product and ramping up reality programming.

Thanks to soaring growth of the silver discs — now at $25 billion in sales and rentals — DVD was the key issue when the Writers Guild began its contract talks last year; neither the WGA nor DGA were able to break through on the issue, as studios insisted they couldn’t survive financially without DVD revenues.

The vote count in Hollywood was 67.8% in favor, while New York voters endorsed the deal with 81.8% backing. Regional branches gave the deal 87.3% support.

Approximately 119,000 members of the unions received ballots, and about 30% returned them, a figure historically consistent with previous ratification votes.

“The negotiating committee of working members felt this was a good deal for actors, the joint national board agreed, and I’m pleased and gratified to see that so many members from each division across our Guild thought so too,” Gilbert said in a statement.

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