Guild approves by 'overwhelming' margin

Members of the Directors Guild of America have ratified the guild’s new three-year deal with the congloms, with union leaders asserting strong support among constituents.

The approval sets the stage for negotiations between the Writers Guild of America — which was in the midst of a bitter strike three years ago — and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. No talks have been set, with the WGA contract set to expire May 1.

The DGA announced Tuesday that the successor contract, covering 14,500 members, had been approved “overwhelmingly,” though it didn’t give the exact percentage of support or number of ballots returned.

The new DGA deal goes into effect July 1.

Approval came six weeks after the DGA’s national board unanimously endorsed the pact, which mirrors gains in the recently ratified deal for the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists — a 2% annual wage hike and a boost to 15.5% from 14% in pension and health contributions, along with the concession of elimination of the first-class travel requirement.

“The extraordinarily positive response by DGA members demonstrates their support for the new contract,” said DGA president Taylor Hackford on Tuesday.

“We achieved significant gains including a sizeable increase in contributions on regular compensation, first-time ever contributions on Completion of Assignment Pay and Vacation Pay, and the establishment of a new tier in Basic Cable, among other important gains. I’m proud of what this Guild has achieved and pleased to see the strength and unity of our membership as illustrated by this vote.”

Prior to the Nov. 16 launch of the DGA talks, DGA leaders singled out the need to boost employer contributions to the DGA pension and health plans while noting that the new-media residuals carved out in the last round of talks had yet to yield significant revenue for its members.

“Protecting the health benefits of DGA members, retirees and their families was our top negotiating priority and remains one of the most important things we do as a Guild,” said negotiating committee chairman Gil Cates.

The DGA reached the deal with the majors Dec. 7 after three weeks of talks, nearly seven months prior to expiration of its current pact.

The SAG-AFTRA deal was concluded on Nov. 7, nearly eight months before its current deal runs out.

The AMPTP, which serves as the negotiating arm for the studios and nets, issued a brief statement Tuesday praising the DGA for making a deal well before expiration.

“The ratification by DGA members is more good news for our industry as we work to recover from the historic recession,” the AMPTP said. “The kind of management-labor stability that we are now achieving will help us create new jobs both in our industry and in the many companies that rely on our industry for business. The new agreement will also strengthen the DGA benefit plans at a critical time and ensure that they remain a vital resource for members.”

The WGA unveiled its “pattern of Demands” — an official list of demands for its master contract — three weeks ago, with members asked to approve by Monday.

Key issues include increased minimums; higher contributions for pension and health; increased residuals for basic cable and new media; boosting pay rates at the CW to those of other networks; increasing homevideo residuals and expanding WGA jurisdiction to motion-capture, animation and videogames.

The decision by WGA leaders to wait on starting negotiations reflects their traditional approach for negotiating close to expiration in hopes that the threat of a work stoppage will encourage companies to make the best deal possible. The DGA, SAG and AFTRA have opted for deals at least six months before expiration based on the notion that the companies will offer the best terms in exchange for the assurance of labor peace.

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