Three-year plan still needs ratification by union members

Leaders of Hollywood’s performers unions have approved a three-year master contract for film and primetime TV, triggering a ratification vote by members in coming weeks.

The joint board of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television & Radio Artists voted Saturday to OK the deal with 89% in favor.

Negotiators for SAG and AFTRA reached a tentative agreement on Nov. 7 — nearly eight months before the expiration of the current deal on June 30. Key gains include a 2% annual hike in minimums and a boost in employer contributions to the unions-industry health and pension plans to 16.5% from the current 15%.

The key concession in the deal is elimination of the long-standing requirement that air transportation to sets must be first class. The tentative agreement also doesn’t include specific language covering actors working on motion-capture sets in pics such as “Avatar.”

Each union will have to approve the deal for it to go into effect. SAG has 120,000 members and AFTRA has 70,000, including broadcasters and singers; about 45,000 thesps are dual members.

Approval’s expected by the members. SAG’s membership has shown a strong preference in recent elections to supporting the self-styled moderate leadership and away from the self-styled progressive wing that controlled the national board from 2005 to 2008.

SAG made no effort to mobilize its members on any issue or prep them for a strike authorization vote. Instead, SAG and AFTRA kept the entire six weeks of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers under a news blackout.

SAG negotiated on its own on the feature part of the deal and jointly with AFTRA on the primetime part of the deal. The two unions had negotiated their TV deals separately in the last round of negotiations due to long-standing jurisdictional disagreements but the currernt SAG leaders have made it a priority to improve relations with AFTRA — which also reps broadcasters and musicians.

The unions didn’t announce a specific date for mailing out ballots but it’s understood that the materials will be mailed to members in about a week with a mid-January deadline for return. That’s longer than the usual three-week ratification period in order to take into account the holiday season.

The unions also said Saturday that they would hold informational meetings about the pact for members in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Florida, Washington, D. C.-Baltimore, San Francisco and Atlanta.

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