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SAG-AFTRA to Start Negotiations With Producers Next Week

SAG-AFTRA will start negotiations with Hollywood producers on a successor deal for its master contract next week, with a tentative start date of May 17, Variety has learned.

The talks will be launching six weeks before the June 30 expiration of the current three-year deal. Neither the union nor the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has confirmed a start date, but sources have said that subcommittees will begin meeting next week, followed by an exchange of “wish lists” before the end of May. Full-blown negotiations are scheduled to begin in early June.

Negotiations are expected to take place at AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks, California. Key issues for the union are likely to include employer contributions to shore up the separate SAG and AFTRA pension plans; dealing with options and exclusivity rules due to shortened seasons in TV, also known as the “span” issue; and changes in how performers are compensated for travel.

SAG-AFTRA, which reps about 160,000 performers, is coming to the table in the wake of down-to-the-wire negotiations by the Writers Guild of America. The writers reached a tentative deal with the AMPTP an hour before the May 2 expiration of the contract, after unnerving the industry with a strike authorization endorsement supported by 96.3% of members who voted.

The WGA achieved significant changes in the compensation structure for short-order TV series, forcing the studios to recognize the financial strain for TV writers as the industry norm has shifted to shows with six-13 episodes per season rather than the broadcast norm of 22-24. Prior to reaching a deal, WGA leaders had been portraying the producers  as greedy and cited the guild’s estimate of the major entertainment conglomerates having racked up $51 billion in operating profits in 2016.

Unlike the WGA, SAG-AFTRA leaders have done little to mobilize the membership. Its national board approved a contract proposal for a successor deal with the production companies on Jan. 22, but it did not disclose details of the package. The close-to-the-vest approach is similar to that employed by the Directors Guild of America, which reached a tentative deal in December for a new contract that goes into effect on July 1 and includes a major gain in streaming residuals.

SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris is heading her union’s negotiating committee and SAG-AFTRA national executive director David White will be the lead negotiator. AMPTP president Carol Lombardini will lead negotiations for the companies.

WGA will begin ratification voting on Friday with a deadline of May 24. The contract is expected to be ratified by a large margin.

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