AFTRA, Networks Reach New Three Year Deal

Wage increases are 2% per year, as expected, while health and retirement contributions receive a 1% bump. Separately, the union and record labels restart talks on sound recording deal.

AFTRA and the television networks reached agreement on a new three-year contract today, with the new pact featuring now-standard 2% annual wage increases and a 1% increase in employer contributions to health and retirement.

Notably, the union achieved the H&R increase without employers taking a bite out of the annual wage increase. Usually, a tradeoff between the two is required, which could have reduced one or more of the annual increases to a politically unpalatable 1-1/2% level. As The Hollywood Reporter reported earlier in the week, health and retirement issues were toughest part of the talks.

EXCLUSIVE: Health and Retirement are the Hangup in AFTRA Netcode Negotiations

An AFTRA statement confirmed the issues’ importance, calling the 1% increase the union’s “primary objective” in the bargaining.

A statement from the networks and other television producers focused on the issue as well, saying that the new agreement “further strengthen(s) the pension and health benefit plans that are so crucial to performers and their families.”

The contract negotiated today – AFTRA’s Network Code, colloquially referred to as the “front of the book” – is the union’s largest, and generates more than $250 million a year in member earnings. It covers scripted and unscripted programs in all television dayparts, except scripted network primetime and scripted basic cable.

Those latter two categories were the subject of deals reached last year. The three-year network primetime deal was jointly negotiated with SAG, whereas today’s pact was an AFTRA-only affair, as is customary with the front of the book.

The new H&R increase brings the employer contribution level under the Netcode to 16.5%. That’s the same rate as is used for contributions under the SAG theatrical agreement and the joint SAG/AFTRA primetime television agreements.

Bringing the contributions to parity removes a possible point of criticism when a SAG/AFTRA merger proposal comes to a vote next year. However, uncertainty over the shape of health and pension/retirement plans is likely to remain a key issue. That’s because the benefit plans are controlled not by the unions themselves but by freestanding organizations with their own boards, which are equally split between labor and management representatives.

Other changes to the contract were minor: dancers’ minimum hazard pay will increase from $80 to $100 per day, and from $100 to $125 per program; the $37.50 overtime rate for singers will be paid starting at the 7th instead of the 9th hour; the minimum work day for stand-Ins who work on primetime variety and award shows will increase, which will increase the minimum daily rate by 20% to 67%; and changes in contract language will increase equal employment opportunities for union performers including an agreement to add “Gender Identity” to the Union’s  diversity report form.

Negotiations began November 7. The current contract expired on November 15, but was apparently extended on a day by day basis, as an AFTRA press release last month said would be the case. When ratified, the new agreement will nonetheless take effect November 16.

Negotiations were hosted at the AMPTP, but were technically with the networks (and studios) as a group, rather than with the AMPTP itself.

Covered programs under the front of book contract include dramas in first-run syndication, morning news shows, talk shows, serials (soap operas, or at least the few that still exist), variety, reality, contest, sports and promotional announcements. Those programs include, among others, Good Morning America, The View, The Price is Right, General Hospital, Saturday Night Live, Dancing with the Stars, The Voice, Survivor, 20/20, Deal or No Deal, Late Show with David Letterman and American Idol.

The deal next goes to the AFTRA board on January 28 for approval, which is expected, and then to members for ratification, which is also expected.

In separate news, the union also noted that negotiations on the AFTRA Sound Recording contract will restart with Sony, UMG, Warner, EMI, Disney and most of their subsidiary labels. Talks are scheduled for December 14 and 15 in New York. The existing contract expires December 31, and previous bargaining sessions had been contentious.

Email: jhandel@att.net

Twitter: @jhandel

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