Ken Howard Sag Afra Contract Talks
Jim Spellman/WireImage

Mum’s the word on the upcoming SAG-AFTRA contract talks.

The performers union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have agreed to a news blackout on their upcoming negotiations on a master contract.

Talks are set to start Monday at the AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks. The lead negotiator for the AMPTP will be President Carol Lombardini. SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard chairs the union’s negotiating committee and National Executive Director David White will serve as SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator.

“The parties also announced that the upcoming negotiations will be conducted under a formal news blackout,” the union and the AMPTP said. “We have no further comment at this time.”

The decision to keep the talks under the radar is not a surprise. Leaders of the performers’ union — who have been assiduously non-confrontational in recent years — have opted to keep a low-profile on the substance of negotiations without any effort to mobilize the members in support of their positions.

The talks are starting less than two months before the current SAG and AFTRA deals expire June 30. Those deals were reached in 2010 — and also took place under a news blackout.

The performers union, which has 165,000 members, has not disclosed 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.

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.tThe players union annoucned last month 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.

Starting in July, 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, said late last year that it was still exploring how to merge with the AFTRA health plan.

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 anounced Wednesday that the contract had been ratified.

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.

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