SAG-AFTRA will begin negotiations on a master contract covering movie and primetime TV with the Hollywood production companies on May 5 — less than two months before the current SAG and AFTRA deals expire June 30.
The performers union, which has 165,000 members, made the announcement Sunday following a two-day meeting of its national board. It did not disclose any details of the proposal but the negotiations will likely cover complex issues such as the whether to create a new master contract or continue with the current SAG and AFTRA deals, along with the fate of the separate SAG and AFTRA pension and health plans.
SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard (pictured above) will chair the negotiating committee. National Executive Director David White — who had been the front-runner earlier this year for a similar post for the National Basketball Players Assn. — is the union’s chief negotiator.
White’s status as the SAG-AFTRA top exec has been murky since he emerged as the front-runner for the NBPA post in mid-February. The players union announced last week that it had decided to re-launch the search with the aim to conclude that process by the start of the next season in October — and did not mention White by name.
The SAG-AFTRA board approved a contract proposal following completion of the SAG-AFTRA “wages and working conditions” process, under which a committee held multiple meetings with union members between January and March to hammer out a contract proposal for presentation to the board. Howard served as the national chair for that committee.
The negotiations will be the second on the SAG and AFTRA master contracts since the members of those two unions voted in March, 2012, to merge after merger backers asserted repeatedly that the combined union would have more negotiating power. SAG-AFTRA reached a three-year deal last April with the ad industry.
The pro-merger campaigners also claimed that merging would be a first step toward resolving the problem of members contributing to separate SAG and AFTRA health plans and not earning enough to qualify for either.
The SAG health plan — which has about 40,000 participants — announced in December that, starting in July, that performers may be able to combine the earnings reportable to the SAG plan and the AFTRA health plan in order to meet the dollar earnings requirement for Plan II eligibility, currently at $15,100 over four quarters. The SAG health plan, which is overseen by reps of the union and the industry, also said at that point that it was still exploring how to merge with the AFTRA health plan.
Eligibility for both the SAG and AFTRA plans is based on meeting earnings thresholds over a four-quarter period so merging the plans was heralded as a solution to the problem of performers falling short of the thresholds when their contributions were going to two different plans. But the difficulties of combining the plans gave rise to the idea of “reciprocity” of earnings as an alternative.
The SAG-AFTRA negotiations will start a month after leaders of the Writers Guild of America reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year master contract. The WGA has sent out ratification materials to members with an April 29 deadline for a deal that would go into effect May 1.
That deal included a 3% annual wage increase and a 0.5% increase in the contribution to the pension fund; higher payments for ad-supported online streaming; and a reduced free streaming window from 17 days to seven days for the first seven episodes of a series.
Members of the Directors Guild of America ratified a successor deal in January that goes into effect on July 1. Gains include an annual 3% wage increase; increased residuals bases; significant improvements in basic cable; the establishment, for the first time, of minimum terms and conditions for high-budget new media made for subscription video on demand such as Netflix and establishment of a formal diversity program at every major TV studio.
The SAG-AFTRA negotiations will take place at the Sherman Oaks headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which serves as the negotiating arm for the industry’s production companies.