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AFTRA OKs benefits deal

New pact offers boosts in health and retirement

AFTRA members have ratified a three-year deal with the television networks with a 96% endorsement of its network code pact, which is aimed at hiking employer contributions for the union’s health and retirement plans.

The new deal, which is retroactive to Nov. 16, includes $18 million in new employer contributions plus a $9 million reallocation to the health and retirement plans from monies that had been earmarked for individual savings plans.

AFTRA said Wednesday the boosts in health and retirement contributions were “consistent” with those achieved this fall by other showbiz unions. The WGA and DGA each agreed separately in the fall to deals containing about $60 million in increases, with two-thirds of those hikes in health and retirement.

Negotiators for AFTRA and the networks reached agreement on the pact Oct. 29, after three weeks of negotiations. The net code covers about $400 million in work annually, including daytime dramatic serials; latenight entertainment programs; sports; game, talk and award shows; syndicated programs; and other AFTRA shows with the exception of primetime dramatic programs.

Talks on the SAG-AFTRA contract covering film and primetime TV recessed two weeks ago and will resume Wednesday.

During the months before the net code negotiations, AFTRA leaders had stressed the importance of increasing the health plan contributions in order to counteract soaring costs to the plan, which has been forced in recent years to cut benefits.

Higher costs forced trustees of the AFTRA health plan — operated jointly by the union and the industry — to charge its first premium for individual coverage, a $250 quarterly charge, and increase the minimum four-quarter earning requirement for individual members from $7,500 to $10,000. Those changes went into effect in July 2003.

AFTRA’s retirement plan also was forced to cut the benefit accrual rate to participants earlier this month to 1.5% of earnings from 2%. The plan had reduced that rate in June 2003 from 3% to 2%.

AFTRA has said other highlights of the deal include program fee increases of 3%, 2.5% and 3% annually; increases in coverage of stunt coordinators and choreographers; background actor and stand-in rate increases; and additional notice and protections to serial performers when producers seek new terms at the expiration of the actors’ contract cycle.

AFTRA prexy John Connolly said Wednesday, “As we move into the New Year, with our flagship net code television negotiation completed achieving impressive gains, and now well into bargaining on our primetime contract, AFTRA can take real pride in the accomplishments of the last year. What we cannot do, however, is rest, if we are to meet the complex and multiplying challenges faced by our union and our members.”

Connolly listed the union’s key issues as standing up for the rights of AFTRA’s broadcast journalists and performers in an increasingly restrictive and hostile legal and regulatory environment; advocating comprehensive health care reform in the face of the worsening crisis in health care affordability; organizing programming in cable, Spanish-language and other arenas; and challenging the monopoly power of corporate media in defense of diversity of ideas and images.

“In order to get the job done, our focus in 2005 must be on coalition-building and working collaboratively and effectively within the labor movement, within our communities nationwide and internationally and within our own diverse membership of performers and broadcasters throughout the country,” Connolly said.

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