IATSE, majors still without deal

New media, health plans on union's agenda

With SAG waiting in the wings, IATSE and the majors have concluded three days of negotiations without reaching a deal — though both sides asserted that they’ve made progress.

In a joint announcement Wednesday afternoon, the below-the-line union and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers said they’ve agreed to recess the talks to accommodate the sessions with SAG and AFTRA. SAG’s talks start Tuesday, AFTRA’s on April 28.

The IATSE talks — held at AMPTP headquarters in Encino — took place more than a year before the conclusion of the current deal, which expires in August 2009 and covers about 25,000 West Coast workers in 18 locals. No date was given for the resumption of talks.

In the announcement, the AMPTP and IATSE said the talks covered new media, minimums and the pension and health plans, including the impact of the 2006 Pension Protection Act on funding standards.

IATSE has traditionally held its talks long before the contract expiration; its strategy is based on the notion that the majors are willing to make a deal that’s most favorable to the union in exchange for labor stability. The two sides also said Wednesday that a news blackout will remain in effect until the conclusion of the negotiations.

Had a deal emerged, the AMPTP would have been able to assert that it had reached four consecutive deals this year — each covering new-media residuals and jurisdiction — as a way of isolating the Screen Actors Guild from the rest of Hollywood. The SAG talks are expected to be contentious since SAG leaders are insisting on improvements on the terms reached by the DGA and WGA, while the AMPTP has warned against such a stance (Daily Variety, April 8).

The SAG-AFTRA feature-primetime contract expires June 30. Hollywood remains worried that SAG’s aggressive approach to talks may result in a strike; in response, studios have been stockpiling features as a hedge against a work stoppage.

“These talks have been extremely helpful in understanding the fundamental issues before us in an environment that has been conducive to bargaining,” IATSE international prexy Thomas C. Short said in a statement. “We look forward to the resumption of negotiations with AMPTP and to securing a contract that will benefit our membership.”

During the 100-day WGA strike, Short was particularly critical of the WGA due to the impact of the work stoppage on below-the-line crews and because of the WGA’s refusal to negotiate early.

“We’ve covered a lot of ground in an opening round that’s been both respectful and mutually beneficial,” AMPTP prexy Nick Counter said in a statement. “We remain confident that we can build on the new economic partnership that we’ve reached with DGA, WGA and the AFTRA Network Code, enabling all of our creative and behind-the-scenes talent to share in the emerging new-media revenue while giving the industry the flexibility needed to adapt and change in a challenging marketplace.”

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