Nine negotiation sessions bring tentative deal

IATSE and the majors have reached a tentative three-year contract agreement after nine negotiating sessions — making for the sixth such accord reached by the congloms this year.

The deal closed one day before the congloms and the Screen Actors Guild today hold a face-to-face meeting, their first on SAG’s contract stalemate in four months.

The IATSE deal agreement came late Wednesday afternoon at the Sherman Oaks headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. The pact, which would take effect in August and cover about 35,000 below-the-line employees repped by the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, must still be ratified by the 18 West Coast IATSE locals and two New York locals.

The majors noted that they’ve also negotiated master contracts this year for the DGA and the WGA, two pacts with AFTRA plus a deal with the casting directors.

The announcement of the IATSE deal came just after the WGA fired a broadside against the AMPTP by accusing the companies of nonpayment of new-media residuals — an assertion denied by the companies, which said the WGA’s wrong about the applicable dates in the contract.

SAG’s negotiating committee’s scheduled to meet today with the AMPTP in Sherman Oaks in a confab orchestrated by federal mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez. Both sides have stayed relatively mum about the meeting, which came about after a month of shuttle diplomacy by Gonzalez.

The AMPTP and IATSE released few details about their pact. The two sides held an initial round of talks in April, then relaunched the negotiations last week.

Labor insiders had been forecasting that IATSE would make a deal this week and said the key sticking point at the talks had been employer contributions to the pension and health plans.

IATSE has traditionally held its talks long before the contract expiration, a strategy based on the notion that the majors are most willing to make a deal favorable to the union at that point in exchange for labor stability. That approach has been used consistently during the 14 years that Thomas Short headed the below-the-line union; Short retired in July and was replaced by Matthew Loeb.

“This was a tough negotiation during tough economic times, but both sides worked hard and negotiated reasonably to come to this agreement,” Loeb said Wednesday. “This new agreement both protects members and allows new media to evolve.”

The AMPTP said the IATSE pact was in line with the other five agreements and included “meaningful” economic gains and “groundbreaking” new-media rights.

“Taken together, these six new labor agreements will keep our industry at work, allow producers to experiment with new media and give everyone in our industry a stake in the success of new and emerging markets,” the AMPTP added.

As for today’s SAG meeting, expectations are muted that the two sides will agree to start moving toward a deal. Neither SAG nor the AMPTP have had an official comment about the session, which follows two meetings Gonzales held with each side.

The AMPTP made its final offer to SAG on its feature-primetime contract on June 30, hours before that pact expired, and the guild last met officially with the congloms on July 16. The guild requested mediation on Oct. 19.

SAG’s leaders have insisted that the AMPTP’s final offer is unacceptable, particularly in its new-media provisions. For its part, the AMPTP’s reiterated it won’t change the final offer, noting that its terms are similar to those reached in the Writers Guild of America, Directors Guild of America and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists deals.

The announcement of the IATSE deal brought into focus the major divisions between Hollywood unions, with the WGA firing its salvo just a few minutes before the AMPTP made the official disclosure.

IATSE and the WGA have often clashed over jurisdiction, and leaders of the WGA have strongly endorsed SAG’s strategy of holding out for a better deal than the writers achieved after their 100-day strike. In a Labor Day message to members, WGA West president Patric Verrone and WGA East prexy Michael Winship said SAG shouldn’t be criticized for its strategy.

“We didn’t win everything in new media that we eventually will,” Verrone and Winship said at the time. “SAG is well within its rights to improve on our gains.”

SAG leaders announced in late January — while the writers were still on strike — that the just-signed DGA deal was inadequate, provoking a sharp rebuke by DGA president Michael Apted that SAG should be minding its own business.

Apted and AFTRA president Roberta Reardon issued strong statements of support for the IATSE deal on Wednesday.

“We congratulate IATSE president Matthew Loeb and the IATSE negotiating committee for protecting, preserving and promoting the economic rights of IATSE members and for helping to ensure the stability of the entertainment industry despite the economic uncertainty that faces all of us,” Apted added. “As we have said before, it is our sincere belief that no matter how challenging the issues, when both sides are determined to take a positive approach to problem-solving, concrete advances in jurisdiction, wages and working conditions can be made.”

Reardon noted that AFTRA — which recently reached a truce with SAG — has a strategic partnership with IATSE.

“We commend the IATSE negotiating committee on successfully negotiating a contract for their West and East Coast members,” she added. “Their task was made even more challenging by the global economic crisis that is affecting all Americans.”

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