Union leaders approve three-year deal

On the heels of SAG’s toppers reaching a tentative feature-primetime deal, SAG and AFTRA’s elected leaders have unanimously endorsed a new three-year commercials pact.

Move by the two actors unions – announced early Saturday afternoon — will trigger a ratification vote among the 150,000 members.

SAG’s national board will meet this afternoon and Sunday in what’s expected to be a fireworks-filled session over approving the tentative two-year film-TV deal. The guild hasn’t yet released any details on that pact.

The commercials deal marked a return to joint negotiations by SAG and AFTRA, which split angrily a year ago and negotiated a separate primetime deal. The unions and the ad industry reached the tentative agreement – which represents a $36 million pay hike over three years, including $21 million more in pension and health contributions – on April 1.

Ballots will be mailed next week with a return date in mid-May. Little opposition’s emerged to the ad deal, which has received backing from SAG president Alan Rosenberg.

“I am pleased and gratified to have achieved these gains and to recommend this agreement for ratification,” he said in a statement Saturday. “I congratulate all of the parties, and particularly the co- chairs, committee members and staff on the remarkable gains they achieved for actors across the country.”

Rosenberg’s vowed to oppose the feature-primetime deal, which was endorsed Friday by the negotiations task force. Rosenberg’s a member of the 10-member task force, which replaced the negotiating committee in January as part of the move by the national board to fire Doug Allen as national exec director.

A few Membership First protestors picketed Saturday morning at the start of the meeting but were gone by mid-day. That hardline faction, which lost its majority on the board last fall, has contended that the deal – expected to mirror the general terms of the DGA, WGA and AFTRA film-TV pacts signed last year – falls short in many areas, particularly new media.

SAG toppers were able to persuade the congloms over the past two months to agree to an expiration date in June 2011 in order to stay in synch with the WGA, DGA and AFTRA expirations. Three days of official talks cratered in mid-February over the expiration date – even though both sides had agreed on other issues — with the companies demanding a three-year deal that would have expired in 2012.

Even though SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers had no comment, the tentative feature-primtime deal will also provide for negotiations between SAG and individual companies to resolve the issue of paying thesps under “force majeuere” provisions for TV series that went dark during the WGA strike.

For SAG, the deal represents the first agreement reached since its national board ousted Allen as national exec director three months ago, replacing him with John McGuire as chief negotiator and David White as interim national exec director. The looming commercials contract talks were something of a distraction when SAG’s new exec duo sought to settle the feature-primetime contract with the studios in February.

The commercials contract is expected to gain easy passage. The pact, which covers nearly $1 billion in annual blurb work, will be retroactive to April 1 and run through March 31, 2012.

SAG and AFTRA staged a bitter six-month strike in 2000 against the ad industry, but the tough economic times plus a shift in control of SAG’s national board to a more moderate faction last fall provided strong indications that a strike wasn’t in the offing.

For the unions, the key gains came in establishment of a payment structure for work made for and moved over to the Internet and other new-media platforms; a 0.5% increase in the employer contribution rate to the unions’ pension and health plans, bringing the total contribution rate to 15.3%; and maintaining the current method of pay-per-play payment for ads run on network (also known as the “Class A” payment structure). The ad biz had hoped to shift the payment to a formula based on ratings for blurbs rather than plays.

As for the ad biz, it managed to hold down annual salary gains to about 2%, or 5.1% for the life of the pact, significantly below the 3% and 3.5% gains in Hollywood union contracts last year, and it won a first-ever cap on employer contributions to pension and health.

The ad industry initially demanded an annual $250,000 cap on earnings per performer per contract for pension and health contributions. Instead, the sides settled on an annual $1 million cap on earnings starting in 2012. And in a key development, the contract also calls for the unions and producers to commission a two-year pilot study by a consultant to test a revamp of compensation based on ratings rather than the current pay-per-play model.

SAG and AFTRA have also touted the pact covering for move-over and made-for ads for the Internet and new media at rates of 1.3 times the minimum session fee for eight weeks of use and 3.5 times the minimum session fee for one year’s use. The unions have also noted that the pact has these gains – the number of covered jobs for extras rose from 40 to 45, an $8 round-trip mileage fee for extras, new exclusivity provisions for made-for-cable-only commercials, and increased foreign-use payments for Spanish-language work.

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