IATSE deal clears path for production

Hollywood’s below-the-line unions and the media congloms have reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year master contract — with less than four months to go before the current pact ends on July 31.

The tentative pact was announced Friday, five weeks after talks started between the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. If ratified by members, the new West Coast IATSE deal would go into effect on Aug. 1.

Key issue had been how to deal with the anticipated funding shortfall of more than $400 million in the pension and health plans with a $1 per hour increase to the health plan contribution, a 20% increase over the current hourly contribution rate of $5 per hour. The union made a key concession in agreeing to the first-ever premiums for health plan coverage — $25 per month for participants with one dependent and $50 for those with two or more dependents.

“Our goals going into these negotiations have been met,” said IATSE president Matthew Loeb in a message to members. “We were successful in maintaining the pensions of our retirees. We achieved wage increases in each year of the agreement of 2%. The health and pension benefits that we have worked so hard for over the years have been protected and will not be reduced.”

The AMPTP, which serves as the bargaining arm for the companies, said in a statement: “We understand how important health and pension benefits are to Hollywood crew members and their families and the risk posed by the projected shortfall in funding those benefits. We worked diligently with IATSE to resolve the funding crisis and keep these plans financially sound and a vital resource for participants.”

The tentative agreement was reached late Thursday following a two-week break in the talks, which had been under a news blackout.

“The second round of negotiations has resulted in a fair deal that will provide employment stability, protect our health and pension plans and provide for wage increases in a fragile economy,” Loeb said.

The IATSE leader said in his message that in exchange for closing the funding shortfall and the 2% annual wage increases, IATSE has agreed to concessions including an expansion of the 30-mile “studio zone” in Los Angeles; provisions in productions made for home video; and a re-allocation of 30.5 cents per hour from the Individual Account Plan to the Active Health Plan in order to help stabilize that plan during what he termed a “national health care crisis.”

Loeb also noted, “Monies have been moved from the health to IAP in the past and it was necessary to do this to rebalance contributions since the health plan is now suffering.” In late 2010 and early 2011 health-care costs became a dominant component in negotiations for the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America. Those deals included 2% hikes in minimums, while the chief gain in each was an increase of 1.5¢ per dollar in employer contributions to the pension and health plans.

For the first time, the IATSE West Coast locals were negotiating jointly with Local 399 of the Intl. Brotherhood of Teamsters and four other Basic Crafts unions on healthcare and retirement issues while holding separate bargaining on the remainder of their contracts. The Teamsters-Basic Crafts contract talks have not been concluded — though the framework’s now in place for the pension and health provisions.

IATSE and the Teamsters have been scaling up activity since last fall to heighten membership awareness on the specifics of rising health-care costs with a series of explanatory sessions for members.

Directors Guild of America president Taylor Hackford congratulated IATSE in a statement: “We applaud the IATSE negotiations committee for achieving a tentative new master contract that addresses key issues for its members, and we look forward to studying the details of the tentative agreement closely.”

The IATSE deal covers 15 locals on the West Coast encompassing more than 20,000 members.

The Teamsters Local 399 covers about 3,200 drivers in 13 Western states and about 1,000 basic craft workers, while The two unions entered into a formal alliance in August 2010 — two weeks after Teamster Local 399 drivers reached a deal with the AMPTP and synched up its contract expiration with the IATSE deal.