SAG-AFTRA Deal Elusive as Midnight Expiration, Strike Threat Loom

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The studios put a new proposal on the table Thursday, but it may not sufficiently resolve union concerns and both sides are angry.

With less than 10 hours to go before SAG-AFTRA’s master TV/theatrical contract expires, wildly divergent perceptions and mutual anger and distrust characterize the negotiations, The Hollywood Reporter has learned from sources familiar with both sides of the table who spoke on condition of anonymity.

There appears to be a real chance that no deal will be reached by contract expiration or even in the next two days. That would trigger the sending of a strike authorization ballot that could then lead to a strike starting the second or third week of July. But talks could continue during balloting.

A work stoppage would immediately halt film, scripted television and new media production (other than daytime soaps, which are under a separate contract that expires next year) and even a short interruption would probably delay the fall broadcast season.

The studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, made a new proposal Thursday that management is said to feel retracts most of the rollbacks the studios were previously asking for and offers concessions on key issues.

But union negotiators are said to feel that the new proposal still contains a wide range of rollbacks and have reacted with anger and dismay. Meanwhile, management is said to feel that the union is not seriously negotiating.

As THR previously reported, the rollbacks that were in play included loosening drop and pickup rules that protect day players, for instance, from nonconsecutive days of employment that preclude other jobs; moving to a 10-hour day before overtime kicks in; and reducing weekend turnaround — i.e., rest time — from 36 to 30 hours. In addition, the studios proposed to eliminate a premium that background actors (extras) receive for night work.

It's unknown which, if any, of those rollbacks are still on the table after the studios’ latest proposal.

The management proposal is said to offer the union essentially the same enhancements on streaming video residuals that the Directors Guild and Writers Guild received earlier this year, as well as offering a 0.5 percent diversion (the union is said to want a 1 percent diversion) from basic wage increases to shore up the pension plan, whose 2016 funding level, 80.08 percent, is just a hair above the so-called yellow zone of risk.

Sources also said the management proposal addressed the issue of travel, in which companies have taken to paying actors a one-time relocation payment, typically $7,500, rather than pay lodging and a per diem as the union contract requires when actors are asked to work in a city other than their residence. But union negotiators are said to feel that the proposal doesn’t resolve the issue at all. At one point, according to a source, the union was asking that the relocation payment be increased to $80,000.

The travel issue is difficult, because the cost of relocation has been shifted onto the shoulders of working-class and middle-class actors often illable to afford to maintain two residences for months at a time, let alone fly back and forth to see spouses and children. The practice has existed for several decades, according to sources, and some studios have multiple, inconsistent policies. But as production in cities such as Atlanta has increased, the problem has grown larger.

It’s not clear where things stand on the issue of basic wage increases. The Directors Guild and Writers Guild announced nominal 3 percent basic wage increases for each year of the three-year contracts, but the reality was a bit more complex. SAG-AFTRA is said to have been asking for 4 percent, 5 percent and 5 percent, but a source predicted that nominal 3 percent increases will be the agreement — when agreement is reached, that is.

The actors’ last entertainment strike began July 21, 1980, and lasted three months. A strike against the commercial industry in 2000 lasted about six months, and SAG-AFTRA is currently on strike against nine major video game companies and has been for over 50 days.

Spokespeople for SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP did not respond to previous inquiries, and the negotiations are being conducted under a press blackout.