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SAG-AFTRA and Industry Postpone Commercials Negotiations

SAG AFTRA One Union Logo - H 2012

The postponement won’t have an immediate effect, since the current contract doesn’t expire until the spring. The union board also approves the new music video agreement.

SAG-AFTRA and the advertising industry have agreed to postpone their previously-scheduled early negotiations of the union’s commercials agreement, the union announced Saturday. The existing agreement remains in place through March 31, 2013. The parties need more time, said the union, to address “data challenges” regarding a study that may result in a revamp of the commercials residuals system, referred to as Gross Ratings Points (GRP).

No date has been set for commercials negotiations, but the calendar makes it unlikely these will occur before mid-January, raising the possibility of a nail-biter. Big issues are likely to be GRP, pension and health contribution levels, and the increase in non-union work.

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The union’s announcement came in the context of a press release about its board meeting, which continues through mid-day Sunday. The board also unanimously approved the first industry-wide music video agreement negotiated with representatives of the major record labels. That agreement, which was reached June 1, is also SAG-AFTRA’s first agreement as a merged union.

“This agreement . . . delivers good terms for dancers and other performers who work in music videos (and) sets the first industry-wide standard for wages and working conditions in music video production,” said negotiating committee member and dancer Sharon Ferguson, who has worked with music video artists including Prince and No Doubt.

“That’s huge!” she added.

On the commercials front, rather than begin negotiations in October as previously planned, SAG-AFTRA and the advertising industry will “pursue a ‘Clearinghouse Project’ designed to address some of the data challenges encountered during the (GRP) Pilot Project,” according to the union.

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The GRP concept, which has been under study for over three years, could result in a large change to the way commercials residuals are calculated. It would have no effect on the calculation of the entertainment residuals that are more familiar to Hollywood.

The union will prepare for commercials negotiations using its wages and working conditions process to gather member input.  Educational meetings will be held in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago beginning August 7 and formal W&W meetings will begin after September 10th. 

Those meetings typically take from 4 to 6 weeks and must then be followed by the formulation of a package of negotiating proposals, then by approval of those proposals by the W&W committee and the SAG-AFTRA board. Throw in the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holiday periods, and negotiations are unlikely to begin until mid-January.

With at least three major issues on the table, commercials negotiations could get rocky – or they could go smoothly, as has been the case ever since the 2000 commercials strike. A key reason may be that labor costs in commercials are a small percentage of the aggregate cost of the commercial, since the cost of ad time – the “media buy” – is so much greater than the production cost. In contrast, labor is a large part of movie or TV production costs and remains a large percentage even when print and advertising costs are added in.

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Those kinds of considerations underscore the importance of economic analysis in labor negotiations, which may underlie another piece of news from today: the union’s national executive director, David White, announced the promotion of David Viviano from national director of research and economics to chief economist overseeing SAG-AFTRA’s newly established Office of Media and Labor Economics. About six staffers report directly or indirectly to Viviano.

White also announced the promotion of Stephen Burrow to senior advisor, where he will oversee a portfolio of national and New York-based policy and contract matters.

In other economic news, co-secretary treasurers Amy Aquino and Matt Kimbrough reported on preliminary strategic planning underway in the finance department. Results of the planning process will be reported at the board’s October meeting.

The music video contract, which was negotiated with Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, EMI Music and The Walt Disney Co. and most of their subsidiary labels, takes effect Monday. It runs for three years and includes minimums, reuse fees, pension and health benefits, and a range of working condition protections.

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Negotiators on the union side were assistant national executive director of sound recordings Randall Himes, national director of sound recordings Stephanie Taub, Western Region organizing director Steve Sidawi, and music video negotiating committee members SAG-AFTRA National Board member and dancer Sharon Ferguson (quoted above), and dancers Aimee Winston (worked with music video artists including Kylie Minogue), Ava Bernstine (Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears), Danielle Towne (Lady Gaga, Black Eyed Peas) and Cassidy Noblett (Lady Gaga, Katy Perry). They were aided by outside counsel Susan Davis of Cohen Weiss and Simon LLP.

Meanwhile, another contract is fading away: the SAG-AFTRA board unanimously approved terminating the legacy SAG Interactive Media Agreement via 60-day notice to producers who had been using the expired contract. The union said those producers will be invited to transition to what it called the “active legacy AFTRA agreement.”

The Saturday meeting was called to order by co-presidents Ken Howard and Roberta Reardon in honor of SAG-AFTRA members who have passed away since the last meeting. That was followed by a moment of silence for the victims of the attack in Aurora, Colo.

Reardon and Howard said, “We are shocked and shaken by this tragedy and send our thoughts and prayers to the loved ones of those who lost their lives or were injured. Theaters are the heart and soul of our art. It’s where people who love movies gather to share our stories, and in some undefined but meaningful way, spend time with us. That is a strong bond and we honor it.”

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Email: jhandel@att.net

Twitter: @jhandel