Screen Actors Guild president Ken Howard and American Federation of Television & Radio Artists prexy Roberta Reardon adhered to a 3-day-old news blackout as they arrived Monday morning at the headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers in Sherman Oaks, Calif., to begin primetime-feature negotiations.

“I’ve been practicing my ‘no comment’ for the last few days,” said Howard, who was limping from an ankle injury.

Others arriving for the first days of talks included SAG’s Hollywood director Illyanne Morden Kichaven and negotiating committee members George Coe, Carole Elliott, Ron Morgan, Paul Napier, Marcia Strassman and Danny Woodburn.

The first day of talks usually involves presentation of proposals by both sides. SAG and AFTRA launched the talks well before the June 30 contract expiration and have said nothing publicly about which issues have priority.

Talks are scheduled to go until Nov. 7 when SAG begins negotiating over its basic cable contract for a week. The negotiations with the Directors Guild of America are expected to start in mid-November.

Sources have indicated that SAG and AFTRA’s top priority at the bargaining table will be their health and pension plans. Negotiations are launching two weeks after the SAG-industry health plan announced that it would be cutting benefits, hiking premiums and tightening eligibility next year in the face of a $30 million deficit this year with projections of a $50 million deficit next year (Daily Variety, Sept. 14).

Employers’ contributions to union pension and health plans are calculated as a percentage of the total compensation paid to members of that union for the year. For the DGA, employers contribute an additional 14% of the total compensation paid to directors to the DGA plans — 8.5% to health and 5.5% to pension for the DGA. The WGA receives 14.5% (8.5% health, 6% pension), while SAG receives 15% (9.25% health, 5.75% pension) as does AFTRA (9.75% health, 5.25% pension). Those plans are operated separately from the unions, and are overseen by a board comprising reps from the studios and the unions.