SAG, AFTRA national entities prep for studio talks

Facing negotiations with congloms in two weeks, the national boards of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists on Sunday endorsed a proposal for a new master contract covering features and primetime.

But SAG and AFTRA provided no details on the proposal, due to be unveiled Sept. 27 at the opening of bargaining at the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers headquarters in Sherman Oaks.

The unions, which thus far have opted for a low-key and cautious negotiating season, hammered out the proposal over the past three months through the “wages and working conditions” process. That included more than two dozen meetings with members.

The negotiations are set to run until mid-November, when the Directors Guild of America will start its contract talks. The AFTRA, DGA and SAG contracts all expire on June 30.

The DGA has given the clearest signal so far on its negotiating priorities, disclosing in a message last month to members that pension and health plans are a top priority.

The DGA did not specify any other issues, maintaining its low-key style and playing its cards close to the vest.

SAG and AFTRA had no comment. But sources have indicated that sweetening the employer contribution to pension and health will be among the top issues.

Employers pay 14% (8.5% to health, 5.5% to pension) for the DGA, 14.5% (8.5% health, 6% pension) for the WGA, 15% (9.25%, 5.75%) for SAG and 15% (9.75%, 5.25%) for AFTRA on top of compensation into the pension and health plans.

The unions will undoubtedly tell the congloms that media companies have posted the strongest quarterly results since the recession began two years ago.

Nearly every major outlet reported double-digit gains in ad revenues (Daily Variety, Aug. 13).

But the companies have indicated they’re in no mood to give up much. In July, negotiators agreed to a new contract to cover Teamster drivers in 13 Western states after the AMPTP insisted it would not sway from a 2% hike in wages — and would be willing to ride out a strike by the drivers if they held out for a 3% increase.The upcoming round of negotiations offers a striking counterpoint to the previous cycle, highlighted by the Writers Guild of America’s bitter 100-day strike. Leaders of the WGA haven’t set any dates with the AMPTP but it has tapped John Bowman and Billy Ray as heads of its negotiating committee.

Unlike the year before the strike, when WGA leaders and late AMPTP Nick Counter battled extensively, the two sides have refrained from confrontational rhetoric even though the contract expires in less than eight months.

The last round of talks also saw AFTRA split from SAG in March 2008 on the primetime deal and negotiate its own contract following years of jurisdictional wrangling. But after moderates won control of the SAG board in September 2008, SAG’s been moving toward repairing relations with AFTRA.

On Saturday, SAG leaders also moved toward joint negotiations with AFTRA for two other contracts — industrial/educational and basic cable live-action.

SAG’s national board unanimously agreed to begin the negotiations process on the industrial/educational contract. National exec director and chief negotiator David White was authorized to enter into an agreement with AFTRA to expand the existing SAG-AFTRA joint bargaining agreement to include negotiations for a successor to the current industrial contract.

AFTRA agreed to conduct joint negotiations on the industrial contract, subject to an agreement by SAG that’s similar to the rules between the unions in negotiating its ad and feature-primetime contacts.

SAG’s board unanimously approved delegating bargaining authority to the negotiating committees and to national exec director David White for the basic cable Live Action, TV animation and basic cable animation agreements. Those negotiations with producers are tentatively scheduled to begin Nov. 7.

The national board also voted to explore the possibility of coordinated bargaining with AFTRA in live action basic cable programming — an area that had been the source of many years of friction between the unions. AFTRA didn’t respond to that vote.

SAG’s been attempting to mend fences with AFTRA with merger as its main goal following an especially soured relationship that began in the fall of 2007.

“I believe that we must dedicate ourselves to the important task of working to create a new union for all our members: actors, recording artists and broadcasters,” said AFTRA president Roberta Reardon. “Changes in technology have changed the way we work, so we must look to the future, not to the past.”

SAG has 120,000 actors as members, and AFTRA has 70,000 members, including broadcasters and singers; about 45,000 thesps are dual members. SAG members have voted against an AFTRA merger twice before.

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