Below-the-line unions launch contract negotiations today

With healthcare costs expected to dominate, Hollywood’s below-the-line unions are launching contract negotiations today with the congloms — less than five months before the current master contract ends July 31.

The first round of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers should last into mid-April. For the first time, the unions — the West Coast locals of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, Local 399 of the Intl. Brotherhood of Teamsters and four other Basic Crafts unions — are expected to negotiate jointly on healthcare and retirement issues while holding separate bargaining on the remainder of their contracts.

Reps for IATSE, the Teamsters and the AMPTP had no comment on the negotiations, to be held at AMPTP headquarters in Encino. It’s likely that the negotiators will agree to a news blackout when negotiations start for the duration of the talks.

Healthcare costs have become a dominant component in negotiations in late 2010 and early 2011 with the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Televison & Radio Artists, the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America. 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 the pension and health plans.

Both IATSE and the Teamsters have been scaling up activity since last fall to heighten membership awareness on the specifics of rising healthcare costs with a series of explanatory sessions for members, which included presentations by healthcare expert and consultant John Garner and David Wescoe, exec administrative director with the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan.

The Teamster deal set the template for negotiations in late 2010 and early 2011 with the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America — all with 2% hikes in minimums and all with the chief gain being an increase of 1.5¢ per dollar in employer contributions to the pension and health plans.

Teamsters Local 399 secretary-treasurer Leo Reed said in a message to members earlier this year that the cost of healthcare benefits had become one of the most important issues facing members.

“Costs of care and insurance coverage have been going up at an alarming rate for the last decade or more,” Reed said. “Indications are that costs will rise an average of 9% to 10% a year for the next five years.”

The Teamsters Local 399 covers about 3,200 drivers in 13 Western states and about 1,000 basic craft workers, while the IATSE deal covers 15 locals on the West Coast encompassing more than 20,000 members. The two unions entered into a formal alliance in August 2010 — two weeks after Teamster Local 399 drivers reached a deal with the AMPTP and synched up its contract expiration with the IATSE deal.

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