Union touts provisons of new three-year master contract on website

Leaders of Hollywood’s key below-the-line union have launched the ratification push on a new three-year master contract — touting it as significantly sweeter than recent deals for other industry unions.

In a “facts about the new IA contract” notice posted on its website this week, the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees recapped provisions of the new West Coast pact, including a 2% annual wage hike along with $250 million in new employer contributions to the health plan via a 20% increase. The master contract deals in 2010-11 for SAG-AFTRA, the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America provided for 2% in minimum wage hikes and a 1.5% increase in benefit contributions.

“This agreement is far richer than that pattern,” the union said. “Our increase of 2% and $1.00 per hour into the benefit plans is worth roughly 5% in the first year. The overall value of this contract for a member with a $33.00 wage rate is over 9%, front loaded, which means that all of the benefit increase go into the plan starting in the first year, rather than being spread out over three years as has been done in the past.”

If the new pact is ratified after being submitted to the 15 West Coast IATSE locals, representing more than 20,000 members, its provisions would go into effect on Aug. 1.

When the deal was announced on April 13, IATSE president Matthew Loeb asserted that it would resolve the problem of an anticipated funding shortfall of over $400 million in the union’s pension and health plans. 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, or $75 and $150 per quarter, beginning next year, while those without dependents will continue to not pay premiums.

The IATSE notice listed premiums for the other plans for comparison:

– SAG premiums are $273-$477 per quarter for single coverage, $317-$477 for the “Plus 1″ coverage and $342-$519 for a family

– AFTRA’s premium is $381 per quarter for single, $668-$2,612 for Plus 1 and $668-$4,249 for a family

– DGA’s quarterly premium is $195 for Plus 1 and $300 for a family

– WGA’s quarterly premium is $150 for Plus 1 and $150 for a family

The notice also said the deal won’t require an increase in eligibility hours — a provision that was included in the final year of the current IATSE contract — and keeps the pension plan in “safe green zone” status. And it defended holding “early” negotiations in March, with five months left on the current deal, as promoting stability and giving the IATSE more bargaining power.

“There is value to the producers in being able to plan and budget past July and we use that value to our benefit,” IATSE said.

The union leaders concluded the missive by noting that the negotiating committee had unanimously recommended the new deal for ratification. And it warned members that voting “no” means that they are authorizing a strike.

“This tentative agreement represents the best offer from the employers,” the union said. “In order to demand more and not have the employers view a return to the table as an opportunity to take back, your bargaining committee must have the authority to call for a strike in the likely event that the employers are unwilling to increase their current offer.”

The notice said the deal memorandum will be sent to each member for ratification as soon as it’s finalized.

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