At long last! SAG and the studios strike a deal


The long and tumultuous negotiations between the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) finally produced a tentative contract agreement on Friday. SAG directors were briefed on the settlement on Sunday and voted 53.38% to 46.62% to approve and recommend to members that they vote to ratify the pact.

The key development is that the studios backed down on a demand that SAG accept a three-year contract beginning this year. Since SAG members have been working without a contract for a year, that would have put SAG out of sync with other Hollywood unions for the next round of contract talks. The deal now agreed to would run only two years, so all of the major contracts between unions and AMPTP would expire in 2011.

There are some gains for union members, but apparently not much over what the studios had offered nine months ago. AMPTP had claimed its “last, best and final offer” in February provided $250 million in increases for SAG members – a tally that was not endorsed by the union.

After the latest official round of talks collapsed in February, new SAG interim Executive Director David White had used back channels to talk with key studio executives, including Disney’s Bob Iger and Warner Brothers’ Barry Meyer. It was those back-channel talks that finally broke the logjam and produced a tentative agreement.

After board approval of the new contract, SAG President Alan Rosenberg, now part of the minority, issued a cautious statement. “I urge members to carefully review both the pros and cons in the referendum materials, and exercise their right to vote,” said Rosenberg.

According to SAG, provisions of the proposed deal include:

— A two-year term of agreement concluding June 30, 2011.

— Effective annual increases comprised of 3.0% in wage increases and .5% in pension contributions upon ratification, and a 3.5% wage increase one year following ratification.

— A new media structure that tracks those achieved by other industry unions, resulting in gains for actors including:

— Jurisdiction on all derivative, made-for new media productions; automatic jurisdiction on all high-budget, original, made-for new media productions; plus jurisdiction on low budget original, new media productions that employee at least 1 covered performer.

— Residuals for exhibition of TV and Theatrical motion pictures on consumer pay platforms (Electronic Sell Through) at a greater percentage than those paid for DVD distribution.

— Residuals for ad-supported streaming of feature films and television programs.

— Residuals for derivative new media programs.

— Additional 5 covered background actors in feature films. From 50 to 53 covered background positions upon ratification of the contract, and from 53 to 55 covered background positions in year 2. Adds 1 covered background position in TV, from 19 to 20, upon ratification.

— Increased compensation for guest star premium from 7.5% to 10%.

— Increased trailer money break from $2,500 to $3,000, or more per week.

— Increased overtime money break for three-day performers from $2,700 to $3,000.

Ratification ballots will be mailed to eligible SAG members in early May, with an expected return date at the end of the month. Tabulation will occur immediately upon the conclusion of balloting, the union said.

RBR/TVBR observation: Everyone in television can breathe a sigh of relief. Even with a contract completed, SAG is still deeply divided, so look for a bitter union election later this year. Meanwhile, was the long delay worth it? In television, AFTRA now has, for the first time ever, the lion’s share of pilots for the next season.