SAG-AFTRA, Studios to Start Contract Talks Monday, Sidelining Writers Guild

SAG-AFTRA Building - H - 2020

The WGA had balked at May 11 talks after proposing that date itself.

Performers union SAG-AFTRA and major motion picture and television studios will commence bargaining on Monday ahead of a June 30 contract extension, the union and studio alliance said Friday in unexpected news.

The move means that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is effectively pushing aside the Writers Guild of America, which had requested May 11 talks but then rejected its own proposed date in a dispute over health plan coverage and told AMPTP president Carol Lombardini, “You people are despicable.”

The SAG-AFTRA talks will be conducted via videoconference, with union president Gabrielle Carteris chairing its negotiating committee and national executive director David White serving as SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator. Lombardini will be lead negotiator for the AMPTP.

Negotiations, which cover television, streaming and theatrical product, are expected to center on wages, residuals and various aspects of working conditions such as holds and exclusivity.

In a related issue, the union might also seek additional clarity on force majeure and hiatus provisions, some of which the studios contend allow them to hold actors indefinitely until production is resumed. But that matter is already a subject of discussion between the union and studios, outside the contours of formal bargaining, so it's unclear whether the issue will be brought into the (virtual) collective bargaining room.

As to residuals, the SAG-AFTRA deal is likely to largely mirror the Directors Guild of America pact that was ratified April 3. The DGA said that deal significantly improved streaming residuals and made other changes, but only a few summary details have been disclosed. The DGA achieved 3.5 percent and 3 percent wage/benefit increases, and SAG-AFTRA will probably be looking for the same, notwithstanding the industry’s deterioration over the almost two months since the DGA agreement was reached.

The parties also announced that the upcoming negotiations will be conducted under a media blackout, and said they would have no further comment at this time.

Meanwhile, the WGA contract is currently set to expire May 1. An extension to June 30 was part of the proposal made by — and then rejected by — the WGA. The guild did not respond to a request for comment.

April 12, 5:28 p.m. Updated with additional detail.