Negotiators for a new SAG-AFTRA film and TV contract have wrapped their second week of bargaining with six weeks to go before the current pact expires and no sign of an early deal. This is the first film and TV contract the union has negotiated since SAG and AFTRA merged in 2012, and one of its key goals is to bring their old contracts into alignment. “That’s what everyone has been talking about,” said a SAG-AFTRA official. “We’ve got to combine the contracts.”
Related: SAG-AFTRA Talks: What To Expect
The union actually is negotiating two separate TV contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers – one SAG’s and the other AFTRA’s, whose basic rates are 3.5% higher than SAG’s. “We want to bring the SAG contract up to AFTRA’s,” said the SAG-AFTRA official. “We certainly don’t want to lower AFTRA’s to SAG’s.” And that may just prove to be the toughest sticking point in these negotiations. Read More »
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.
WGA Members Approve New Contract
DGA Board Approves New Contract With Producers
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.
Related: SAG-AFTRA Takes “First Step” To Merge Health Plans
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.) Read More »
They still haven’t melded the Health & Pension Plans, but today SAG-AFTRA does have a new logo. Approved last month in a 2-1 vote by the union’s National Board and unveiled today, the new look was conceived and designed by veteran branding company Siegel+Gale. Looking vaguely like something a European political party would use, the logo is meant to exemplify SAG-AFTRA’s “primary brand attributes — strength, excellence and unity,” according to the union. SAG-AFTRA begins contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers on Monday in the union’s first major contract negotiation since merging just more than two years ago.
Related: SAG-AFTRA Extras Squeezed Out Of Health & Pension Plans
With negotiations for a new set of SAG-AFTRA film and TV contracts set to begin May 5, the plight of the unions’ lowest-paid members is coming to light. Data obtained by Deadline shows that earnings for SAG’s film and TV extras have been in a steep decline during the past 10 years, leaving fewer and fewer of them eligible for SAG’s basic health plan. Data collected by the SAG Pension and Health Plans shows that during the past decade, the number of SAG members who have qualified for SAG health benefits based on their earnings from extra work alone has plummeted by more than 67%, down from 2,782 in 2003 to only 905 in 2011, the most recent year for which those numbers have been made available (see chart 1).
Related: SAG-AFTRA Working On Wide-Ranging Casting Diversity Report
The numbers began their precipitous plunge in 2004, when the SAG Pension and Health Plans raised the earnings needed to qualify for basic health coverage from $7,500 a year to $11,000, an increase of nearly 50%. They plunged again in 2011 when the earnings requirement was raised to $14,800 – nearly double what it had been only eight years earlier. In 2004, the number of extras who qualified for SAG health benefits based on their earnings as extras alone fell by 33%, an indication that increases in eligibility hurts the lowest earners the most. The numbers slid again in 2005 then stabilized for the next two years. The slide resumed in 2008, when AFTRA started signing more TV producers to its contract, touching off a bitter feud that only ended when the two unions merged in 2010. Read More »
SAG-AFTRA is working on what will be the first truly comprehensive picture of the employment landscape for women and minority actors and hopes to release it within a year. SAG used to release the reports annually, then in 2004 it started issuing them every other year. After 2009, it stopped releasing the reports altogether. The problem was that AFTRA never released comprehensive casting reports on actors employed under its jurisdiction – which included daytime soaps and some primetime and basic cable shows, and new pilots – so the employment picture SAG presented was never really complete. And in the years leading up to their 2012 merger, AFTRA launched a concerted campaign to sign more pilots and cable shows to its contract by offering more favorable terms than SAG’s – a move that sparked a bitter feud between the two unions.
Related: SAG-AFTRA Sets May 5 For Start Of New Contract Talks With AMPTP
As AFTRA’s share of the TV jurisdiction ballooned, the missing piece of SAG’s employment picture began to grow larger and larger. By the time they agreed to set aside their differences and merge, AFTRA was representing about half of the actors employed in TV, and nearly all of the actors working on new pilots. In one of the little-noticed consequences of its feud with AFTRA, SAG stopped issuing its casting reports altogether rather than presenting ones that had become increasingly incomplete. But now they’re on the same team, and Adam Moore, SAG-AFTRA’s national director of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity, said he hopes the union’s next casting report will be released to the public “within the next 12 months. That’s my hope. That’s my plan.” He also said that the next report will fill in the data for the last five missing years.
Related: SAG-AFTRA Slams Talent Managers Association
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SAG-AFTRA said today that they’ll sit down with the studios and networks on May 5 to start negotiations on a new 3-year contract. This is the first truly big contract to be worked out by the union since SAG and AFTRA merged two years ago. The announcement comes less than two weeks after the WGA finally reached a deal on a new three-year contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers. Today, in meetings in L.A., the SAG-AFTRA National Board unanimously rubber stamped proposals for the upcoming talks based on their mandated wages and working conditions meetings with members. Typical of SAG-AFTRA, the proposals themselves are being kept under lock and key. However, there is little doubt that they include measures about a rise in contributions to the now merged unions still separated Health and Pension plans as well as increases in minimums and residuals based on the pattern bargaining approach utilized by the DGA and the WGA. The first union to sit down with the studios and networks, the DGA sealed their deal late last year. With their current deal set to expire on June 30, SAG-AFTRA will be led by union prez Ken Howard in the contract talks. Potential NBA Players Union chief and SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White will serve as chief negotiator when the union meets with AMPTP at their Sherman Oaks HQ next month.
The union’s new voluntary Personal Managers Code of Ethics and Conduct really isn’t going over well with some managers. Just a day after the code was unveiled, SAG-AFTRA today sent an email to members over the “uninformed lobbying” against the new scheme by the Talent Managers Association. SAG-AFTRA claimed that its former partners in crafting the code had “reached the level of direct misrepresentations being sent to union members in an attempt to frighten them about the true intent of this Code.”
Related: SAG-AFTRA Sets New Ethics Code For Personal Managers
“Managers have been asked by SAG-AFTRA of the guild if we intend to help them get work,” reads one email from a personal manager obtained by Deadline. “I’m afraid that if we want to stay in the guild’s good graces we must turn away all guild members who approach us with agency representation.” The latter sentence refers to state labor laws in California and New York that limit personal managers’ ability to procure employment for their clients. SAG-AFTRA said today that the verbage in their code “closely mirrors” the laws of the Golden State and the Empire State – something the TMA obviously wants to use as wedge.
Half a dozen years in the making, the new ethics and conduct code marks the first time the union has attempted to exercise some control over managers even though it has, as do other guilds, long mandatorily regulated talent agents.
Here is the email SAG-AFTRA sent to its members today: Read More »
It’s totally voluntary and the Talent Managers Association is against it but SAG-AFTRA today introduced a Personal Manager Code of Ethics and Conduct. The new code (see below) is the first time the union has attempted to exercise some control over managers even though it has, as do other guilds, long mandatorily regulated talent agents. The union also announced that it would change the name of its Agency Relations Department to the SAG-AFTRA Professional Representatives Department. Years in the making the new Code doesn’t jibe with some of the people who were initially involved in crafting it. “After thoughtful review and consultation with legal counsel, our position is to advise members against signing the SAG-AFTRA code in its current highly restrictive and regulatory form,” said the TMA board in a statement. The announcement today by SAG-AFTRA comes just weeks before the union is expected to announce the beginning of talks with the studios and networks for a new 3-year contract. DGA members approved their deal with AMPTP in January and the WGA, who started negotiations on February 3, returns to talks today after break of a couple of weeks
Related: Federal Judge Throws Out Lawsuit By Managers Challenging Talent Agencies Act
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Related: California Pols Unveiling Bill Today To Expand Film & TV Tax Credit Program
Just hours after a new multi-sponsored bill to expand California’s current $100 million Film and TV Tax Credit program was introduced today in Sacramento both the state’s Production Alliance and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti have come out in strong support. Garcetti, who formed the city’s Entertainment Industry and Production office last year and vowed to “storm” the state capitol to improve the state’s incentives, praised “Assemblymembers Gatto and Bocanegra for taking the lead on enhancing this important program.” The Alliance, which includes the MPAA, SAG-AFTRA and the Teamsters, said that it “welcomed the introduction of AB 1839.” While the new bill seeks to let blockbusters and network TV shows now be eligible for the lottery rewarded program, no actual figure has been given yet – though as Deadline’s scoop on the bill this morning said, sources tell me the politicians and the industry are aiming for $400 million. Whether they get it is another matter. In the meantime, check out Mayor Garcetti and the Alliance’s statements below:
Mayor Garcetti’s Statement on Film Incentive Legislation
This legislation represents a prudent investment in the future of California’s middle class, and its widespread geographic and bipartisan support reflects its importance to our statewide economy. It comes at a critical moment, when other states and foreign countries are luring away thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenues
… Read More »
UPDATE, 7:45PM: EXCLUSIVE: SAG-AFTRA Executive Director David White may be a candidate to head up the NBA players union, but he’s still got a big supporter in the head of the Hollywood union. “Just as it was with their opposition to merger, MembershipFirst remains out of touch with members,” SAG-AFTRA president Ken Howard told me tonight of the faction’s slam of White’s potential new gig. “Executives of David White’s caliber are rare, and informed SAG-AFTRA members are thrilled to have David leading the preparations for our upcoming contract talks,” Howard added. The SAG-AFTRA chief gave no indication of what the union’s plan would be if White got the NBA players union job. However, with SAG-AFTRA still in its mandated wages and working condition consultation with members and likely weeks away from even setting a start date for its talks with the studios and networks over a new three year contract, the union has time to regroup as it heads into the first such negotiations since its spring 2012 merger.
WGA Contract Talks Off Until March 4
SAG-AFTRA Increased National Exec Director’s Pay & Union’s Funds In Trust In Fiscal 2012
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Almost two years after merging SAG-AFTRA still haven’t melded their pension and health plans, but the SAG Plan now has a new CEO. Michael Estrada, former Executive Director, Investments and Finance, will take over the Screen Actors Guild-Producers Pension & Health Plans “effective immediately,” SAG-PPHP said today. The scandal-plagued plans saw Christopher Dowdell announced last year he was exiting the CEO gig after just more than a year in the job. The former COO stepped in after previous controversial CEO Bruce Dow exited in April 2012. Both SAG and AFTRA’s separate plans are expected to be a major topic of discussion in the union’s upcoming negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers over a new 3-year contract. SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP have not yet set a start date for those talks, but the current contract expires June 30 — the same day as the DGA, who struck their new deal with the producers late last year.
On December 15, SAG-AFTRA that it was going to begin “the first steps” to partially merging the plans this summer but typically gave almost no details. While we wait for that, here’s today’s SAG-PPHP release:
SAG Pension & Health Plan Rocked By Lawsuit: Targets CEO Bruce Dow
Feds Probing SAG P&H Embezzlements/Cover-Ups Allegations
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UPDATED: In a not-unexpected ruling, a federal judge has dismissed the multimillion-dollar foreign residuals suit brought by former union boss Ed Asner and more than a dozen others against SAG-AFTRA. The ruling (read it here) filed yesterday comes just weeks before the actors union is expected to begin negotiations with producers on a new three-year labor contract, the first since SAG and AFTRA merged in 2012. It lifts what could have been a black cloud over those talks – a June 24, 2014 trial date had been set.
“We are pleased with the judge’s order and believe the complete dismissal is fully warranted,” SAG-AFTRA Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said today in a statement. “The Court acknowledged SAG-AFTRA’s ongoing cooperation with the plaintiffs. SAG-AFTRA has more than 1,000 pages of annual disclosure documents available online to anyone. Despite this unfortunate and unnecessary litigation, we remain focused on collecting and distributing foreign royalties and unclaimed residuals, programs of which we are justifiably proud. We hope that this dismissal will mark an end to such lawsuits that needlessly expend union resources.”
In November, the union moved to have tossed the remaining elements of the suit originally filed in spring 2013 by Asner and the 15 other members of the self-titled United Screen Actors Committee. Despite protests last month from the plaintiffs (they called the union’s check-converting practices “willy-nilly”), U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real on Monday ruled for the union. Asner and the United Screen Actors Committee first filed suit in May 2013 for more than $130 million over allegedly improperly dispersed foreign residuals. In October, Real granted the union’s motion to dismiss a large portion of the suit — though he did not cut the residuals aspect of the claims, giving certain plaintiffs the right to move forward. An amended complaint was filed October 23.
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Nearly a month after DGA members ratified their new three-year deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers, the WGA today announced that it will sit down for their talks with the producers on February 3. The negotiations are set to take place at AMPTP HQ in Sherman Oaks. While the Writers Guild took the step to announce its negotiating committee on November 13, up to today, neither they nor SAG-AFTRA had set a start date for their respective talks with AMPTP. Not like the melded WGA West and WGA East committee doesn’t include some heavy-hitting scribes. There’s recently re-elected board members Billy Ray and David S. Goyer as well Damon Lindelof among the group. The committee will serve under WGAW Exec Director and Chief Negotiator David Young. The WGA’s latest contract is set to expire on May 1.
Related: AMPTP Respond To WGA West Plan To Go After Deadbeat Producers Read More »
Yesterday my colleague Pete Hammond said there were “no surprises” in the DGA Awards Film nominees. Well, today the Directors Guild of America delivered even less of a shock as its members ratified the new three-year deal its negotiating committee reached with the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers in late November (after you finish that yawn, read their release below). Same as three years ago, no specific numbers were given just that the approval was by an “overwhelming margin,” according to the DGA. (UPDATE, 11 AM: As you would expect, AMPTP praised the ratification today, though with slightly ominous tones.“We are pleased that the DGA membership has ratified the new contracts. These new agreements will contribute to the stability of the industry by ensuring that feature film and television production - and the jobs dependent on it – can continue without interruption,” said the producers’ group in a statement Wednesday.)
The Guild sent out the new agreements to its 15,000 members on December 18, 2012. With its current deal ending on June 30, the DGA was the first of the guilds this time round to conclude a new Basic Agreement and the Freelance Live and Tape TV Agreement with the studios and networks. While the WGA took the step to announce its negotiating committee on November 13, neither they nor SAG-AFTRA have set a start date for their respective talks with AMPTP. … Read More »
One in a series of Deadline stories that look back on 2013 and ahead to 2014.
It was a year that saw the Weinsteins and Warner Bros clash over the title of The Butler and then get into the ring again for The Hobbitsequels. 2013 also witnessed the first fired Walking Dead showrunner wanting to take a bite out ofAMC for his piece of the cable blockbuster, a Ray Donovan EP nailed by the feds in a big-time gambling scheme right out of the Showtime Hollywood fixer series and a monster of a legal drama in the making as Legendary Pictures tried to swat some seasoned producers off its Godzilla reboot. In the end, with those cases and more, the Hollywood legal landscape of 2013 proved to be a stringent reminder of why they call it show business and not show friends.
With money and rights at the basis of most of the disputes, the complaints and motions were as numerous as locusts and as prevalent as rats, with many of them spilling over into 2014 and perhaps beyond. Just ask Barry Diller and Les Moonves as streaming service Aereo and CBS and other broadcasters suit up for a potential Supreme Court winner-takes-all showdown next year. Or Prospect Park as it fights ABC in a $125 million suit over licensed soaps All My Children and One Life To Live while having to contend with a complaint from co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz seeking a declaratory judgment from the court over non-compete clauses in his contract with the company. Sure, sometimes weapons are lowered like when Paramount and asset management firm Content Partners reached an undisclosed settlement on December 12 in their $45 million film financing slate dust-up after three years going at it in the courts. With a pivotal hearing looming, that was realpolitik in action as the sudden deal allowed the studio to sidestep dragging JPMorgan Chase, which corporate parent Viacom has significant banking dealings with, into the protracted case despite the blessing of the presiding judge. However, with the grinding duration of a lot of the legal disputes in this town, such resolution is rare, even when the end seems in sight.
Look for instance at Warner Bros and the seemingly never-ending Superman heirs’ rights battle. After a string of seemingly conclusive legal wins this year, WB and subsidiary DC Comics now could face more Krypton courtroom drama in 2014. On December 10, the co-creators heirs’ attorneys Marc Toberoff and Keith G. Adams petitioned the 9th Circuit for either a rehearing by the panel that found in the studio’s favor on November 21 or by the full court itself. If that effort fails, they could take the matter to the SCOTUS. Even with all the billings that O’Melveny & Myers get to make to WB after years of litigation, the sharp-elbowed Daniel Petrocelli and Matthew Kline must want to be able to declare a super-lawyer victory and move on – after all, they also have the Trouble With The Curve copyright suit to handle for the studio and a February 24 hearing on a summary judgment motion in that case by plaintiffs Ryan A. Brooks and Gold Glove Productions to fend off. Read More »
Joseph Ruskin, veteran television, film and stage actor and longtime SAG board member, died Saturday of natural causes at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, according to a statement from SAG-AFTRA. He was 89. Ruskin’s television credits number more than 120 including appearances on The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Murder She Wrote, L.A. Law and most recently Bones. His film work includes roles in The Magnificent Seven, Prizzi’s Honor, Indecent Proposal and Smokin’ Aces. Ruskin began his career in theatre, performing over the years at the Mark Taper Forum, UCLA’s Freud Playhouse and Theater 40. His final performance came this year as a member of the Antaeus Theatre Company.
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The staffers at Chicago Public Media voted 40-7 today to have SAG-AFTRA as their union. The deal covers professionals who produce, report, host and present content for Chicago’s National Public Radio outlet WBEZ, Vocalo, Sound Opinions and related digital services. “Public radio is more than a job,” said Rob Wildeboer, WBEZ’s criminal and legal affairs reporter. “We believe organizing as staff members is an important step to achieving the goals we all share here: producing excellent journalism that serves the public and making this important local institution even stronger than it is today.”
Related: SAG-AFTRA Reveals Local Election Results For Chicago
Almost a month ago, SAG-AFTRA sought to toss out of court the remaining portions of a multimillion-dollar residuals suit filed by former SAG President Ed Asner and 15 other members of the self-titled United Screen Actors Committe. This week, the plantiffs rejected that idea and fired back at the union, which they say has “clearly taken advantage of its role as a fiduciary” and it members. “SAG-AFTRA simply does not record what is earned but it willy-nilly converts checks as it sees fit, by either endorsing checks made out to performers and placing same into its purported Trust Account, or by holding onto performers checks for months if not years on end to the ongoing detriment of its members who depend on these earnings to live,” Tuesday’s 26-page federal court filing says. The union must be “held accountable for misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance in these and other regards,” it adds. Asner and the United Screen Committee first filed suit over more than $130 million in allegedly improperly dispersed foreign residuals on May 24. A hearing on the union’s November request for dismissal and motion to strike is scheduled for January 6 in front of District Judge Manuel Real. In the fall, the judge set a June 24, 2014 trial date in the case.
Related: SAG-AFTRA Takes “First Step” To Merge Health Plans Read More »
Members of the DGA have three weeks to vote on a new three-year deal its negotiating committee reached with the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers late last month. Ratification packages were sent out this week to the 15,000 DGA members with a January 7, 2014 due date for returning ballots. “This ballot represents your highest responsibility as a Guild member and the core of why the Guild has existed and remained strong for over 77 years – to protect your economic and creative rights and freedoms. The Negotiations Committee and the Guild’s National Board unanimously – and enthusiastically – recommend that you vote YES for ratification of the Agreements,” said guild president Paris Barclay in an accompanying letter. In his first contract agreement as DGA boss, Barclay didn’t go soft on selling the deal to his members, playing up the wage increase provisions. “We successfully achieved critical gains for DGA members in a number of significant areas – the most important of which was to increase wages significantly for members by “breaking the 2s” – the pattern set after the economic downturn of 2008 that affected labor negotiations throughout the industry and resulted in 2% annual wage increases, at best”, he wrote in pitch to members dated December 13. “We succeeded – resulting in what will be 3% wage increases annually.”
Related: DGA Board Approves New Contract With Producers Read More »