SAG focus back on TV-theatrical deal

Tentative ad contract done, but other pact still not set

Any sense of victory or relief stemming from a tentative deal for a new commercials contracts between performers' unions and the ad industry may be short-lived. The focus is already swinging back to the impasse facing SAG and the AMPTP over a new TV-theatrical agreement.

That contract has been expired since June 30, and no official actions have taken place since the SAG national board rejected the AMPTP's last, best, final offer on Feb. 21. Back-channel talks are ongoing.

In the meantime, the proposed commercials contracts, which would run from April 1, 2009, to March 31, 2012, will take a month or more to ratify. The SAG-AFTRA joint negotiating committee announced in the early morning hours of Wednesday -- a mere seven hours after the old contracts officially expired -- that it was recommending the tentative deal unanimously. The joint national board will now vote on whether to pass it on to their memberships for a ratification vote.

No joint board meeting has yet been scheduled, but it will likely materialize as a video plenary via New York and L.A. in the coming weeks. SAG has a national board meeting already scheduled for April 18-19. Assuming that the joint SAG-AFTRA board approves the deal, it will then send referendum materials and ballots to both SAG's and AFTRA's memberships for a vote.

The new agreement would contain a $36 million increase in wage rates and other payments for all categories of performers in the first year of the contracts as well as about $21 million in increased contributions to the SAG's and AFTRA's health and pension funds. A cap on annual contributions was instituted for the first time.

The sides also tentatively agreed to a two-year pilot study on the use of a new Gross Rating Points compensation model suggested by Booz & Co. and championed by the JPC during negotiations. Additionally, the agreement includes payment for work made for new-media platforms and new monitoring provisions.

On Wednesday afternoon, JPC lead negotiator Douglas Wood posted a message about the negotiations on the JPC Web site.

"Rather than approaching the bargaining table as adversaries, the two sides sought to find solutions to one another's key issues. While many of these issues were difficult to resolve, the conviction by all parties to find reasons to agree rather than disagree resulted in a fair and balanced agreement."

Whether intentional or not, Wood's phrasing draws a sharp contrast to the highly charged negotiations between SAG and the AMPTP over the new TV-theatrical deal. As such, SAG lead negotiator John McGuire can point to the good-faith "reasonableness" with which it negotiated the JPC deal and contrast it with what it sees as the intractable hardball played by the AMPTP.

On the other hand, the AMPTP could point to the relatively low increases achieved by the unions -- as contrasted with other labor deals cut over the last year -- as another sign of the economic sacrifices required of the times.
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