With negotiations for a new of SAG-AFTRA film and TV contract set to begin Monday, all signs are pointing to weeks of intense bargaining — followed by a new deal with significant gains and no rollbacks that will be resoundingly ratified by the union’s members. In other words, no actors strike this year; you can bank on it. The upcoming negotiations will be the union’s first film and TV contract talks since SAG and AFTRA merged in 2012, but they’ve been jointly negotiating their film and TV pacts since 1981, so in a sense it’s like a couple that’s been living together for 33 years and finally getting married. So don’t expect any big changes in the talks to replace the current contract which expires June 30.
The DGA and the WGA both negotiated new contracts earlier this year, and those deals — both of which were overwhelmingly approved by their members — will set the framework for the new SAG-AFTRA deal. The DGA and WGA pacts each contain a 2.5% pay raise for the first year of the contract and 3% increases in minimums for each of the following years, plus a 0.5% increase in employer contributions to the unions’ pension and health plans, so SAG-AFTRA will most likely get the same deal. Complicating the matter for the actors’ union, however, is the fact that there are still two separate TV contracts covering actors, and that AFTRA’s minimums are 3.5% higher than SAG’s.
This discrepancy found its way into the contracts when AFTRA walked out on the joint contract talks in 2008 and signed a separate three-year deal with producers, and SAG held out and kept working under the terms of the old contract for over a year before finally reaching a two-year deal. This left SAG out on the first year’s 3.5% pay raise that AFTRA received, and the two contracts have been out of sync ever since. (This imbalance was left in their contracts when they returned to the bargaining table together and made a deal for a new contract in 2010.)
Whether the union will try to bring its TV contracts into alignment this year remains to be seen. There’s little incentive for producers to boost SAG’s TV contract by an additional 3.5% to make up for this discrepancy — after all, it wasn’t their fault that the two unions couldn’t get their acts together in 2008. And there’s no incentive for the unions to drop AFTRA’s rates by 3.5% either. So unless they can reach some sort of a compromise, this imbalance could remain for years to come. That might not be such a bad outcome for many actors, however, if it gives producers an incentive to start shooting more pilots and cable TV shows under SAG’s lower minimums, which would give a much-needed boost in contributions to SAG’s ailing Pension & Health Plans.
When labor and management sit down Monday in the J. Nicholas Counter III Conference Center at the AMPTP’s headquarters in Sherman Oaks — under a press blackout, the producers said today — much of the negotiations are expected to revolve around television and new media, the industry’s main areas of growth. Here, too, SAG-AFTRA probably will get the same deal that so-called “pattern bargaining” produced after the DGA made its deal, terms of which were nearly identical as those accepted by the WGA. Along those lines, expect to see “outsized” increases of 5% in minimums for each of the three years of a new contract for most high-budget, one-hour basic cable series; an increase in Internet streaming residuals; and, for the first time, minimums for high-budget subscription on demand video services such as Netflix and Amazon.
Representing more than 168,000 active members, SAG-AFTRA negotiators do face a significantly different set of challenges than those faced by their counterparts at the much smaller WGA and DGA: a much larger, and a much more diverse, membership. SAG-AFTRA covers not only actors but singers, dancers, stunt performers and coordinators, puppeteers, body doubles, airplane and helicopter pilots, and background performers. Getting something for each of those constituencies will be vital to success of the talks, which will be led by AMPTP President Carol Lombardini, with SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard chairing the union’s negotiating team and SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White serving as the union’s chief negotiator.