News blackout holds as negotiations continue

Negotiations for a master contract for the Directors Guild of America are heading into the fourth week, with both sides adhering to a news blackout.

The contract talks launched Nov. 16 and will resume today. Negotiators met Saturday and then recessed for the weekend.

In the months before the start of talks, the DGA singled out pension and health plans as a top priority. Gil Cates, who’s heading the guild’s negotiating for the fourth consecutive time, has noted that employers haven’t increased their contribution to the DGA plans since 2005, while benefits have been tightened.

The talks started with exactly 7½ months remaining on the current DGA contract, which expires June 30, in keeping with the guild’s strategy of attempting to reach a deal well before expiration — allowing employers to offer the best possible terms as a premium for the assurance of labor peace.

Employers’ contributions to union pension and health plans are made as a percentage of total compensation paid to members, with contributions capped for high earners. For the DGA, employers contribute to the DGA plans an additional 14% of the total compensation paid to directors — 8.5% to health, 5.5% to pension. The Writers Guild of America receives 14.5% (8.5% health, 6% pension), while the Screen Actors Guild receives 15% (9.25% health, 5.75% pension) as does the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists (9.75% health, 5.25% pension).

SAG and AFTRA’s tentative deal for features and primetime, announced Nov. 7, boosts the employer contribution to 16.5%. All the guild plans are operated separately from the unions and are overseen by a board comprised of reps from the studios and the unions.

A joint board of SAG and AFTRA reps voted Saturday to endorse the deal, which also includes a 2% wage hike and eliminates first-class air travel.

That triggers a mail ballot to be sent out to members.

The WGA, which shares about 1,000 members with the DGA, still hasn’t set negotiations with the AMPTP in keeping with its strategy of negotiating with a far shorter period than the DGA before the contract expiration. The current WGA pact — negotiated at the end of a bitter 100-day strike in 2008 — expires May 1.

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