Guild's current contract expires May 1

The writers and the congloms are finally sitting down to negotiate on Thursday — less than two months before the scribes’ master contract expires.

The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers made a joint announcement Tuesday and said they had no further comment.

Thursday’s session will be the first since Feb. 10, 2008, when the WGA and the congloms hammered out the final details on a new deal that ended a raucous three-month strike.

During the past months both sides have sheathed their sabers and refrained from criticism of each other. That’s a stark shift from the feverish run-up to the strike, which galvanized much of the WGA membership and prepped the writers for the work stoppage.

The AMPTP comes into the negotiations with successor contracts already ratified in January by the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists and the Directors Guild of America. Those pacts contain a 2% gain in minimum salaries, a hike in pension and health contributions from employers and the elimination of required first-class air travel when creatives must journey to sets.

For its part, the WGA hasn’t said anything publicly since Feb. 3, when it announced that its members had overwhelmingly endorsed its list of 22 demands for a successor contract — 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 vidgames.

Companies are highly unlikely to agree to a boost in homevid rates and expanded jurisdiction.

As the DGA leaders did during the run-up to the director talks, WGA West president John Wells and WGA East prexy Michael Winship have singled out pension and health as key issues.

The most highly touted gains in the actor and director deals came in pension and health contributions. Under the new deals going into effect June 30, employers’ contribution will shift up from 14% to 15.5% for the DGA and from 15% to 16.5% for SAG and AFTRA.

Employers of WGA members currently pay 14.5% (8.5% health, 6% pension) on top of every dollar of compensation into the pension and health plans. Those plans are operated separately from the unions, with an industry-union board overseeing each.

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