SAG continues silent stance on talks

Annual membership meeting takes place in Beverly Hills

The Screen Actors Guild is staying silent about its feature-primetime contract negotiations with the congloms, which head into their fifth week today.

SAG president Ken Howard and national exec director David White adhered to the month-old news blackout Sunday, prior to the guild’s annual membership meeting at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The confab drew several hundred members.

SAG issued a press release Sunday afternoon about its two-day national board meeting with no mention of the feature-primetime negotiations. The announcement said the board had voted to establish SAG’s portion of the joint negotiating committee with AFTRA on the contract covering work on industrial and education films.

With the moderates firmly in control of the SAG national board, its leaders have opted for a non-confrontational strategy during bargaining with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers over a successor deal to the current pact, which expires June 30. SAG is jointly bargaining with the American Federation of Television & RadioArtists on the primetime portion of the master contract, with negotiations scheduled to run until Nov. 5.

SAG’s current under-the-radar approach offers a stark contrast with its aggressive stance during the previous round of negotiations, when SAG was the most prominent union supporting the writers during their 100-day strike.

Sources close to the talks have indicated that sweetening employer pension and health contributions remains a major focus for the unions (Daily Variety, Oct. 15). The talks are scheduled to shift Nov. 8 to a discussion of cable deals for a week before the Directors Guild of America begins its negotiations.

The DGA has continued to emphasize in recent communications with members that pension and health will be a priority — while SAG-AFTRA, by contrast, has refused to disclose anything about its strategy. In a post to the DGA’s Web site Thursday, negotiating committee chief Gil Cates noted that the employer contribution rate on the health plan has remained unchanged since 2005 amid increased expenses from rising healthcare costs, healthcare reform and demographic changes.

“It is now critical that the burden of increasing costs shifts to the employers,” Cates said. “With costs continuing to rise and tremendous uncertainty about how national healthcare reform will impact the Plan, both in the short-term and in the future, sustaining healthcare benefits is an issue that will need the cooperation of all parties — including the employers. Protecting the health benefits of DGA members, retirees and their families remains one of the most important things we do as a guild.”

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.

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