DGA, Producers Reach Tentative Deal on New 3-Year Contract

Image courtesy of the Directors Guild of America

Following two and half weeks of negotiations under a news blackout, the Directors Guild of America has reached a tentative three-year deal with producers on a succesor master contract covering feature film and TV.

As is customary, the DGA reached a deal long before its current contract expires — more than seven months in this case.

The pact with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was announced Friday night. Negotiations had started Nov. 4 at AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks.

The tentative agreement will be presented Saturday to the DGA’s national board for approval at a special board meeting. If approved, the deal would then be sent to the 15,000 DGA members for ratification.

The current deal expires June 30 so the terms of the successor contract would go into effect July 1.

As is typical with its close-to-the-vest style, the DGA gave no details on the terms of the pact. The conclusion of the negotiations marked the first public disclosure since the DGA and AMPTP jointly announced a month ago on Oct. 23 that they were starting talks on Nov. 4 and that those talks would take place under a blackout.

For its part, the AMPTP issued a details-free statement confirming that a tentative agreement had been reached.

The DGA, which named Michael Apted and Thomas Schlamme as its negotiating committee co-chairs in February, has usually gone first in recent negotiation cycles between the AMPTP and the guilds.

Hollywood’s other two major unions —SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America — have not yet locked in a start date for negotiations for their successor deals to master contracts covering features and primetime TV. The WGA deal expires May 1 and the SAG-AFTRA deal runs out June 30.

SAG-AFTRA is currently dominated by moderates who have been disinclined to express any dissatisfaction with their employers. Additionally, their leaders made no effort earlier this year to mobilize the 165,000 members to support the union during contract negotiations with the ad industry, opting instead to negotiate under a blackout.

The WGA remains a wild card, given that many its leaders participated in a bitter 100-day strike against the companies in late 2007 and early 2008. Earlier this year, the WGA West board gave exec director David Young — a chief architect of the strike — a five-year contract extension.

The DGA’s current three-year pact — negotiated at the end of 2010 – contains a 2% annual wage hike and a boost to 15.5% from 14% in pension and health contributions.

The DGA has tended to be the first of the major Hollywood unions to reach a deal on its master contract with the congloms during each negotiating cycle, though SAG went first during the 2010 cycle as part of its previous pact with the AMPTP. Both SAG and the DGA then reached a deal before the end of 2011 — more than six months before the master contracts expired.

DGA leaders have long espoused the notion that negotiating well before expiration is the best strategy for extracting the best terms from the AMPTP with a “premium” in exchange for the guarantee of labor peace.

The WGA recently tapped “Captain Phillips” screenwriter Billy Ray and Chip Johannessen as negotiation co-chairs for its contract talks. The WGA’s leadership has tended to favor a strategy of negotiating closer to expiration in hopes that the looming threat of a work stoppage may encourage companies to make the best deal possible.

As for SAG-AFTRA, the performers union has already announced that it will hold its “wages and working conditions” process beween Jan. 27 and March 14. That process is mandated constitutionally for the union to formulate its contract proposal.

By going first in the current cycle of negotiations, the terms of the DGA deal will be used by the AMPTP in its negotiations with SAG-AFTRA and the WGA. The employers will contend that the DGA deal contains the “template” for terms in the other master contracts.

That scenario came into play in 2008 during the latter stages of the WGA strike. The DGA closed an agreement spelling out specifics of jurisdiction over new media productions and reuse, and guaranteed access to the new-media deals and data. The new-media provisions in the DGA pact subsequently became the template for the WGA, SAG and AFTRA deals.

As he has for nearly two decades, national exec director Jay D. Roth served as the DGA’s chief professional negotiator in the current round.

Since the strike, the Hollywood unions have remained on relatively good terms with employers — so much so that the last round of negotiations in 2010-11 with the AMPTP was completed largely under the radar and without controversy. In all three successor contracts, the key gains were a 2% hike in minimums and a 1.5% increase in employer contributions to the pension and health plans.

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