Ups employer contributions to heath care, retirement funds

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists has reached a tentative three-year deal on a successor contract for its network code deal, covering nonprimetime work with the four major television broadcast networks.

The key part of the deal, announced Friday night, is a hike in employer contributions to the AFTRA Health and Retirement Funds from 15.5% to 16.5%.

That’s the same figure in the current master contract for the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA covering features and primetime TV work, with the contribution rate rising from 15% to 16.5% in last year’s negotiations.

Negotiations on the “net code” deal began on Nov. 7. If ratified by the AFTRA members, the agreement will apply retroactively to Nov. 16, 2011, and run through Nov. 15, 2014.

The “net code,” which was extended by a year in June 2010, was scheduled to expire on Nov. 15 but was extended on a day-to-day basis for the duration of negotiations.

The net code is AFTRA’s biggest contract, generating more than $250 million a year in member earnings. It covers programming outside primetime drama and sitcoms including dramas in firstrun syndication, morning news shows, talkshows, soap operas, variety, reality, contest and sports. Current programs covered include “Good Morning America,” “The View,” “The Price Is Right,” “General Hospital,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “The Voice,” “Survivor,” “20/20,” “Deal or No Deal” and “Late Show With David Letterman.”

SAG and AFTRA share jurisdiction in scripted primetime programs shot on digital. AFTRA’s been able to sign the lion’s share of new series to AFTRA deals.

AFTRA president Roberta Reardon chaired the 25-member negotiating committee, and AFTRA national exec director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth served as chief negotiator. A press blackout had remained in effect for the duration of negotiations.

AFTRA said Friday that the new deal increased wages by 6% over the term of the agreement (2% each year) for most categories. The 2% yearly hike in minimums has been standard for the successor deals signed by Hollywood unions in recent years.

Other new provisions: Minimum hazard pay for dancers will increase from $80 to $100 per day and from $100 to $125 per program; the $37.50 overtime rate for singers will be paid starting at the seventh instead of the ninth hour; the minimum work day for stand-ins who work on primetime variety and award shows will be increasing,upping the minimum daily rate by 20% to 67%; and a change to contract language that will increase equal employment opportunities for union performers.

AFTRA said full details of the tentative agreement will be submitted for approval to the AFTRA national board on Jan. 28. If the board approves it, the deal will be sent out for ratification by the membership.

AFTRA has about 70,000 members, including about 45,000 who also belong to SAG. Leaders of the two unions have been working on a merger plan with the aim of presenting it to the national boards next month for a possible vote by members in the spring.

The networks also issued a statement: “The tentative three-year agreement with AFTRA builds on the increases in benefit contributions made in last year’s extension, further strengthening the pension and health benefit plans that are so crucial to performers and their families. Both sides worked diligently to reach a deal that is both fair and recognizes the pressures facing the production of television programs produced under this code.”

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