With just two weeks to go before the current SAG-AFTRA film and TV contract expires, negotiations are continuing today with no apparent sense of urgency. The contract talks, which began May 5, have yet to convene on the weekends. “The offices are closed,” a security guard said Saturday at the AMPTP’s offices in Sherman Oaks, where the talks are being held. “There’s no one in there.”
SAG-AFTRA is cutting it much closer to the deadline than either the DGA or WGA did in their recent contract talks. The directors reached a deal a full 7½ months before their contract expired, and the writers reached a deal 29 days before their deal expired. Even if a deal for a new actors’ contract is reached this week, the ratification process could take a month to complete. The union’s board of directors would have to approve any deal first, and then ballots would be mailed to the union’s 247,000 members. Returning and counting the ballots would take several more weeks, pushing final ratification well beyond the expiration of the current pact.
Related: SAG-AFTRA Talks: What To Expect
Up until now, reaching early deals on major Hollywood contracts has been a stated goal of both labor and management because it keeps jittery producers from holding off on production starts, lest they be caught by a labor stoppage in mid-production. Such a production slowdown in advance of a contract’s expiration not only hurts the companies but union workers as well. That norm has gone by the wayside this time, however, and there is no hint that production is slowing out of fear of a possible actors strike. The entire industry appears to be confidently betting that a deal will be reached without a strike. The last time film and TV actors went on strike was in 1980.
Even if negotiators fail to reach a deal by the June 30 deadline, the contract could be extended to allow bargaining to continue. That’s what happened in 2008, when AFTRA reached a separate agreement with producers, but SAG didn’t reach its own deal until a year after its contract expired. That one-year gap created a disparity in the union’s TV pay scales, leaving SAG’s 3.5% lower than AFTRA’s. SAG and AFTRA merged in 2012, but they still have two separate TV contracts. Bringing the two TV contracts into alignment was one of the key goals of the union going into the current round of contract talks — and could prove to be the stickiest sticking point in the negotiations.
Beyond that, most of the heavy lifting for a new deal was already accomplished by the Directors Guild, which set the pattern of bargaining for all the other guilds to follow when it reached an agreement in November on a new contract that contained no rollbacks, solid gains in new media, a 2.5% increase in wages for the first year and 3% for the second and third years, and a 0.5% increase in employer contributions to the guild’s pension plan. The WGA accepted nearly identical terms five months later. The AMPTP has offered a similar deal to SAG-AFTRA but will have to pitch in another 3.5% pay raise if the union holds firm on its goal of merging its two TV contracts.
The talks are being held under a so-called “press blackout,” though that might have to be lifted soon to assuage nervous producers and investors.