Union's national board approves proposals for successor contract
SAG-AFTRA and the ad industry have sealed their Valentine’s Day date, with leaders of the performers union approving the package of proposals for a successor contract.SAG-AFTRA and the industry agreed in December to start meeting in New York on Feb. 14 — seven weeks before the March 31 expiration of the current deal. On Saturday, the SAG-AFTRA national board blessed the proposals, hammered out via the “wages and working conditions” member meetings in recent months. The ad contract, covering $1 billion in annual earnings, will be the first major pact negotiated by SAG-AFTRA since members voted to merge the unions last March. The union did not disclose any details of the proposal in an announcement released early Sunday. David White, national exec director and chief negotiator, said, “While there are difficult issues to negotiate ahead, we anticipate a productive dialogue with our bargaining partners and expect a result that is positive for our members.” For its part, the ad industry — repped through the joint policy committee of the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies and the Assn. of National Advertisers — told members in December to consider “prudent planning” in the case of a strike. “Consider rescheduling production planned for March 31, 2013, through June 2013 to dates prior to March 31, 2013, to account for any possible impasse and strike,” said lead negotiator Douglas Wood in the memo. “The last work stoppage (i.e., strike) in 2000 lasted approximately six months. This is of particular concern if you are planning production for the rollout of a new campaign or are planning a celebrity production.” Wood also advised that members should consider beginning negotiations to maintain broadcast rights on current commercials if those rights are expiring in the three months after March 31. And he suggested that when celebrity contracts are entered into or renewed, the agreements include provisions for suspension of payments if there is a strike that interferes with production and spelling out that a performer has no right to withdraw permission to use of a commercial if there is a work stoppage. The union and the industry are in the final four months of a one-year extension to the three-year deal reached in 2009. SAG and AFTRA sought and received the extension in mid-2011 in order to focus their efforts on a merger, which was approved by union members on March 30. Key gains in the current commercials contract included a payment structure for work made for and moved over to the Internet and other new-media platforms and retention of the method of pay-per-play payment for ads run on network (also known as the “Class A” payment structure). That contract also called for the unions and producers to commission a two-year pilot study by a consultant to test a revamp of compensation based on ratings rather than the current pay-per-play model. The 2009 deal represented a $36 million pay hike over three years, including $21 million more in pension and health contributions. It held down annual salary gains to about 2% and included a first-ever cap on employer contributions to pension and health. The ad industry initially demanded an annual $250,000 cap on earnings per performer per contract for pension and health contributions, and the sides settled on an annual $1 million cap on earnings starting in 2012. Sunday’s SAG-AFTRA announcement also disclosed that the national board received a report on the progress of “reciprocity” and merger efforts of the SAG-Producers Pension & Health Plans and the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds. It gave no details other than saying “discussions are progressing.” Proponents of the merger touted the combined SAG-AFTRA as having more power than the individual unions and asserted that combining the unions would be a first step toward combining the separate SAG and AFTRA health and retirement plans — and a move toward solving the problem of performers not qualifying for coverage under separate SAG and AFTRA health and pension plans.