Without new labor pact, some features may have avoided West Coast

Biz poised for labor peace

Hollywood’s taken a major step toward labor peace for the next two years.

In a deal announced Friday, the key below-the-line unions and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Telelivision Producers have agreed to a new three-year master contract — with the provisions kicking in Aug. 1, if ratified by the more than 20,000 members of the West Coast locals of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

The tentative pact removes a potential block to Hollywood production in coming months. Had the agreement not been reached this month, feature productions would likely have started to re-locate outside the West Coast to avoid the possible impact of bumping up against a work stoppage in the late summer.

The master contracts for Hollywood’s other major unions — SAG-AFTRA, the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America — do not expire for two more years.

IATSE president Matthew Loeb asserted Friday that the new deal resolves the problem of an anticipated funding shortfall of over $400 million in the union’s pension and health plans via a $1 per hour increase to the health plan contribution by employers, up 20% over the current rate of $5 per hour. In exchange, IATSE agreed to the first-ever premiums for health plan coverage — $25 per month for participants with one dependent and $50 for those with two or more dependents.

“Our goals going into these negotiations have been met,” Loeb said in a message to members. “We were successful in maintaining the pensions of our retirees. We achieved wage increases in each year of the agreement of 2%. The health and pension benefits that we have worked so hard for over the years have been protected and will not be reduced.”

The AMPTP said in a statement: “We understand how important health and pension benefits are to Hollywood crew members and their families and the risk posed by the projected shortfall in funding those benefits. We worked diligently with IATSE to resolve the funding crisis and keep these plans financially sound and a vital resource for participants.”

The tentative agreement was reached late Thursday following a two-week break in the talks, which had been under a news blackout since launching March 7. “The second round of negotiations has resulted in a fair deal that will provide employment stability, protect our health and pension plans and provide for wage increases in a fragile economy,” Loeb said.

IATSE also agreed to concessions including an expansion of the 30-mile “studio zone” in Los Angeles and provisions in productions made for home video. The pact re-allocates 30.5 cents per hour from the pension plan to the health plan during what Loeb termed a “national health care crisis.”

Health-care costs became a dominant component in the last round of negotiations for SAG, DGA and WGA. Those deals included 2% hikes in minimums, while the chief gain in each was an increase of 1.5¢ per dollar in employer contributions to pension and health.

The IATSE West Coast deal also sets the template for other below-the-line unions with expirations later this year. Local 399 of the Intl. Brotherhood of Teamsters and four other Basic Crafts unions negotiated jointly with IATSE in March on healthcare and retirement issues while holding separate bargaining on the remainder of their contracts, which have not been concluded.

Negotiations on the master contracts for the IATSE animators, repped through Local 839, and the Teamster-repped location managers and casting directors have not yet been set.

DGA president Taylor Hackford congratulated IATSE in a statement: “We applaud the IATSE negotiations committee for achieving a tentative new master contract that addresses key issues for its members, and we look forward to studying the details of the tentative agreement closely.”

The Teamsters-Basic Crafts contract expires July 31 and covers about 3,200 drivers in 13 Western states and about 1,000 basic craft workers. IATSE and the Teamsters entered into a formal alliance in August 2010.

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