Directors Guild eyes successor deal with congloms

Hollywood should continue to see a low-tension, rhetoric-free negotiating season, as the Directors Guild of America starts its negotiations with the congloms on a successor deal to its master contract on Tuesday.

The DGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers released a brief joint statement Thursday announcing the start date of negotiations — and declaring that they’ll take place under a news blackout. The current deal expires June 30.

That announcement came after the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists reached a tentative deal on their primetime-feature pact over the weekend following six weeks of talks under a news blackout. SAG also announced Thursday that it had reached deals on a trio of cable and animation pacts.

Reflecting its usual cautious approach, the DGA has singled out pension and health plans as top priorities at the contract negotiations in recent months, while warning that new-media revenues remain an area of uncertainty. Gil Cates, who’s leading the DGA negotiating committee for the fourth consecutive time, has maintained the DGA’s low-key style, play his cards close to his vest and keeping saber-rattling at a minimum in preparation for the start of talks.

The DGA’s negotiations are likely to go much faster than SAG’s, particularly now that the template has been set in the SAG/AFTRA deal. Key provisions include a 2% annual wage hike, an increase in the contribution rates for pension and health from 15% to 16.5% and elimination of the requirement that members travel first class when they’re required to fly to sets.

The DGA and the WGA lag SAG and AFTRA in terms of overall employer contributions to the industry-union plans, which are calculated as a percentage of compensation paid to members. For the DGA, employers contribute an additional 14% of the total compensation paid to directors to the DGA plans — 8.5% to health and 5.5% to pension. The WGA receives 14.5% (8.5% health, 6% pension), while SAG receives 15% (9.25% health, 5.75% pension) as does AFTRA (9.75% health, 5.25% pension).

Those plans are operated separately from the unions and are overseen by a board comprised of equal numbers of reps from the companies and the unions.

If there are any fireworks over the upcoming round of guild negotiations, they are most likely to come from the Writers Guild of America, 2½ years removed from its bitter 100-day strike. WGA leaders haven’t yet set any dates with the AMPTP even though the WGA contract is the first to expire on May 1; the DGA, SAG and AFTRA master contracts all expire on June 30.

The Writers Guild of America West outlined its key issues last month — increased employer contributions for pension and health, better pay for basic cable and new media and improved working conditions for scribes.

The WGA announced in July that it had tapped John Bowman and Billy Ray as heads of its negotiating committee. Bowman headed the panel during the strike.

The DGA has often concluded its deals half a year or more before expiration in the belief that providing the congloms with the security of a new deal — rather than the prospect of a work stoppage — incentivizes the employers to include a premium to the DGA.

The DGA played a crucial role two years ago in bringing the WGA strike to an end, hammering out a deal in January 2008 with far more detailed language covering new-media compensation. That language became the template for the deals for the WGA, SAG and AFTRA.

The DGA deal came after the guild had conducted its own research over the previous two years into the parameters of new media. There were two keys to closing that pact: spelling out the specifics of jurisdiction over new-media productions and reuse and guaranteeing access to the new-media deals and data.

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