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SAG-AFTRA Reaches Deal on Commercials Contract

Low-key approach yields tentative agreement on three-year deal with ad industry.

Representatives of  SAG-AFTRA and the ad industry have reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year deal.

The agreement was announced early Saturday morning after eight weeks of negotiations in New York . The current pact had been due to expire Sunday, following a one-week extension on March 26.

Leaders of both sides touted the improvements in the successor deal but no details were disclosed. Pact will be submitted for approval at the April 20-21 national board meeting of the union, then sent to the 160,000 SAG-AFTRA members for approval.

“We’ve made essential gains for SAG-AFTRA members and I couldn’t be more pleased,” said SAG-AFTRA co-president Roberta Reardon (pictured above), who headed the negotiating committee for the union.  “These contracts provide our members with the solid foundation they need to sustain their careers and families.”

Reps of SAG-AFTRA and the Joint Policy Committee of the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies and the Assn. of National Advertisers began negotiations on a successor deal on Feb. 14 and have been operating with a news blackout until the deal was announced.

The current contract covers roughly $1 billion in annual earnings. The blackout is in line with the policy of the SAG-AFTRA national board, which is dominated by self-styled moderates who have long espoused a non-confrontational approach.

The JPC notified members in December to consider “prudent planning” in the case of a strike, including rescheduling production planned for the April-June period. But SAG-AFTRA never gave any signal that a work stoppage could take place during the subsequent months.

The union and the industry are in the final two days of a one-year extension to the three-year contract reached in 2009. SAG and AFTRA sought and received the extension in mid-2011 in order to focus their efforts on a merger, which was approved by members last March.

SAG-AFTRA’s buttoned-down approach to negotiations offered a vivid contrast to the six-month strike that crippled the blurb biz 13 years ago. Prior to the 2013 negotiations, the union held the required “wages and working conditions” meetings with members last year to formulate its proposal but made no subsequent efforts to mobilize the members about the issues.

Douglas J. Wood, lead negotiator for the ad industry, also issued a detail-free statement in Saturday’s announcement that a successor deal had been reached.

“These negotiations have been a positive and productive continuation of our longtime partnership with commercial performers and their representatives,” Wood said. “I am pleased to have achieved these important industry gains in key areas and I want to thank my colleague and JPC Counsel Stacy Marcus and the other members of our negotiating team. I look forward to the approval of the SAG-AFTRA Board and ratification by their membership.”

It’s the first major contract to come up for renewal by SAG-AFTRA since members approved merging SAG and AFTRA last March following a robust campaign that promised more bargaining power.

Reardon told Variety in January that the merger would have an impact on all of the union’s successor contracts. “It’s going to be a year where we discover that solidarity, power and leverage are not just words. And the consolidation within the media industry will have a huge impact on these contracts,” she said.

The key gains in the current commercials contract — negotiated in 2009 when SAG and AFTRA were separate while negotiating together — included a payment structure for work made for and moved over to the Internet and other new-media platforms and retention of the Class A method of pay-per-play.

That 2009 deal yielded a $36 million pay hike over three years, including $21 million more in pension and health contribution and held down annual salary gains to about 2% and included a first-ever cap on employer contributions to pension and health.

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