Actors' Unions Reach Deal With AMPTP

SAG/AFTRA tentative agreement includes 2% annual wage bumps and 1.5% P&H increase.

After six weeks of bargaining, ending in a marathon session that extended into the night, SAG and AFTRA reached a new three-year deal today with the AMPTP. As expected, it’s all about bread and butter, and little else.

The unions received modest 2% annual wage increases. That means the studios have successfully held the line at the level established in negotiations earlier this year with Teamsters Local 399, representing Hollywood truck drivers and others. Bumps as high as 3.5% were the norm just two or three years ago.

Of course, in today’s economy, any wage increase is a plus.

The big win for the unions came in pension and health. There, the employers agreed to boost their contributions by 1.5%, a ten percent increase over the existing 15% contribution level. Boosts of 0.5% are more common, so this is a solid gain, particularly in light of the fiscal pressures on both pension plans and health plans – declining asset values, increased health care costs, and others.

Statements by the unions’ leaders reflected their focus on P&H. Screen Actors Guild President Ken Howard said “Strengthening the Pension and Health Plans was our top priority in these negotiations.”

AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon echoed the sentiment, remarking “I am extremely pleased we met our goal of increasing contributions to our retirement and pension plans.”

In new media, an area of such contention in the last negotiating cycle, there was little change. Union jurisdiction was expanded slightly with a modification to the definition of “covered performers,” whose presence in a project is one trigger for union coverage.

No other significant changes in new media are known at this time. Nor were there any changes in the area of performers working on performance capture sets, which had emerged as a priority for the union.

Also absent was any equalization of SAG and AFTRA wage rates. SAG minimums are about 3.5% less than AFTRA’s, a result of the SAG stalemate / defacto strike in the last negotiating cycle.

In a statement, the AMPTP praised the deal as offering increases “while being responsive to the current challenges facing feature film and television producers.”

The DGA weighed in as well, striking a warm note not seen for some years in relations with SAG, in particular:  “The DGA heartily applauds the successful conclusion of the joint SAG & AFTRA negotiations with the AMPTP.  We congratulate the negotiations committees of our sister guilds, our colleagues (in the SAG and AFTRA leadership) and our sisters and brothers at SAG and AFTRA.”

Other features of the new contract – which now goes to the union boards for assent and then to union members for ratification – include:

* Two additional background positions in theatrical and one additional background position in television in the Western Zones.

* An expansion of major role provisions to apply to new pay television series commencing in their second season. These provisions previously applied only to bradcast series. The change effectively increases minimum compensation for guest stars and others on pay TV series.

* Increases in the area of money and schedule breaks.

* Improved contract language to increase equal employment opportunities for union performers.

With one deal done, the negotiating room will scarcely be empty in the coming days.

Starting Monday, talks are scheduled between the studios and SAG, but without AFTRA, regarding basic cable. That subject is dealt with in a short agreement that keys off of the main TV/theatrical agreements. The likely issue is residuals, which are far lower in basic cable than in broadcast. The recent success of basic cable series such as “Mad Men” has left the guilds eager for an increase.

Those negotiations are scheduled to last a week. Next up: the DGA is scheduled to begin negotiations Monday, November 15. Those talks are expected to be quick, as is generally the case with DGA negotiations, since the union tends to hash out details in informal sessions prior to the start of formal bargaining.

The SAG/AFTRA and DGA contracts expires June 30. The current WGA contract expires May 1, and no dates have been set for bargaining sessions. The holiday calendar means that WGA talks are not likely until February at the earliest.

However, by the time those discussions start, the WGA will as a practical matter be bound by decisions reached during the SAG/AFTRA and DGA talks on such matters as wages, P&H and new media.

This effect, called “pattern bargaining,” is not a legal requirement by any means, but it is a practical reality. The WGA’s other gains would probably have to come in other, more writer-specific areas.