Labor talks progress but pension contributions remain an issue

SAG and AFTRA may reach a deal with the congloms on a master contract for film and primetime TV by Friday, according to sources close to the talks who cautioned that the outcome is still far from certain.

Friday reps the final day of a six-week period of negotiations that started Sept. 27. Officially, the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have stayed silent about the negotiations in accordance with a news blackout imposed

three days before talks started.

Sources indicated that there is optimism that a deal could be reached by Friday but some big issues remain — including overall wages and the level of employer pension contributions. With the contract expiring June 30, the negotiators aren’t under the gun to close a deal this week.

SAG is scheduled to begin a week of cable negotiations Monday. And the Directors Guild has said repeatedly that it’s set to start talks with the AMPTP during the following week.

SAG and AFTRA — which are negotiating jointly on the primetime part of the master contract — have not yet set any date for the talks to resume, should they not reach a deal this week.

With the moderate wing of the SAG national board firmly in control, its leaders have opted for a nonconfrontational strategy during bargaining, in sharp contrast to the guild’s last round of contract talks with the majors in which it broke from joint negotiations with AFTRA for the first time in more than 25 years.

The DGA has continued to emphasize in recent communications with members that pension and health will be a priority. SAG and AFTRA, by contrast, have refused to disclose anything about their bargaining strategy. The DGA deal also expires June 30.

Employers’ contributions to union pension and health plans are calculated as a percentage of the total compensation paid to members of that union. 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 for the DGA. 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.

The SAG-AFTRA strategy of negotiating more than half a year prior to expiration is in line with the DGA’s preference for making a deal without an expiration looming. That strategy reflects the notion that the congloms will opt for the best terms at that point in exchange for the assurance of labor peace.

The Writers Guild of America has continued opt for an approach of negotiating with the expiration in sight, based on the idea that doing so improves the odds of achieving the best deal. The WGA contract expires May 1 — two months earlier than SAG, AFTRA and the DGA — but the writers have still not set a date with the AMPTP to start talks.

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