Guild, AFTRA votes 93.5% in favor of new three-year pact

Hollywood’s performers unions have ratified their new three-year deal with minimal opposition.

Over 93.5% of members of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists endorsed the pact covering feature and primetime work, according to results released Friday night. The successor contract goes into effect July 1.

SAG and AFTRA mailed out 137,437 ballots with a return rate of 25.1%

The deal, reached with the congloms Nov. 7, includes 2% annual increases in minimum wages, a hike in pension and health contributions from 15% to 16.5%, and a “major role” minimum to series made for pay television for the first time. The joint board of SAG and AFTRA voted Dec. 4 to OK the deal with 89% in favor — with opposition centering on the elimination of first-class air travel for performers required to journey to sets and the failure to include motion-capture work in the pact.

In statements released with the results, SAG president Ken Howard and AFTRA president Roberta Reardon touted the hike in the pension and health plans.

“The success of the referendum is a huge boon for members in terms of pension and healthcare contributions,” Howard said. “We have the input of our members and the dedication of our SAG negotiating team to thank for the outcome.”

Reardon said, “This ratification is a win for union members and it is a critical victory for our health and retirement plans. I thank the working AFTRA and SAG members who served on the negotiating committee for leading us through to a strong agreement that the memberships of both unions have endorsed and approved.”

The materials sent to members do not include a so-called minority report, which would have contained arguments against the contract.

SAG has 120,000 members and AFTRA has 70,000, including broadcasters and musicians; about 45,000 thesps are dual members.

The strong support for the deal is a reflection of SAG’s increasingly non-confrontational tenor. SAG’s membership has shown a strong preference in recent elections for the self-styled moderate leadership and away from the self-styled progressive wing that controlled the national board from 2005 to 2008.

During that time, the Membership First faction clashed repeatedly with AFTRA over jurisdictional issues in television — so much so that AFTRA wound up negotiating its own primetime deal in 2008, a year before SAG reached its separate deal with eqivalent terms. Producers have responded to SAG’s perceived instability by opting to sign virtually ever new show with AFTRA.

With the Unite for Strength faction in power over the last year and a half, SAG’s repaired the relationship with AFTRA to the point that it resumed joint negotiations. Howard and Reardon have stressed merging the unions as the signature issue during the past year.

SAG made no effort during the past year 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.

Results of the Directors Guild of America’s ratification vote on the directors’ three-year deal should be announced soon. The DGA’s national board unanimously endorsed its tentative agreement on Dec. 8; the DGA’s pact mirrors gains int the SAG/AFTRA deal — 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.

There’s still no word from the Writers Guild of America as to when it will start negotiations — despite its looming May 1 expiration of its current deal, hammered out after the 2007-08 strike. Even though the WGA shares about 1,000 members with the DGA, it has neither congratulated the directors nor commented on whether it’s working on setting a date for negotiations.

The WGA unveiled its official list of demands for its master contract three weeks ago with its key issues including 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 home video residuals and expanding WGA jurisdiction to motion capture, animation and videogames.

The WGA sent out an 8-page “pattern of demands” on Dec. 22 to its 12,000 members, a step that’s required by the union’s constitution as a prelude to starting negotiations. Members were told to return the ballot by Jan. 24.

The cover letter from WGA West president John Wells and WGA East president Michael Winship singled out pension and health as a key issue, without naming any others.

WGA leaders often opt 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 — and now SAG — have made their deals at least six months before expiration with the strategy that the companies will offer the best terms in exchange for the assurance of labor peace.

The AMPTP issued a brief statement touting the deal and the benefits of early talks.

“The ratification of the new contracts by SAG and AFTRA members is a vote of confidence in the agreements and in our mutual commitment to industry stability,” the AMPTP said. “The new agreements reflect the benefits of early negotiations and a willingness on both sides to work through the difficult issues in a constructive manner.”

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