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June 3, 2009

From AFTRA themselves (APR. 23, 2009)


April 2009

Joint AFTRA and SAG National Board of Directors Approves New Commercials Contracts for Ratification

Meeting by videoconference plenary in Los Angeles and New York, the Joint SAG-AFTRA National Board today voted unanimously to approve and recommend to members, new three-year successor agreements to the 2006 AFTRA Television and Radio Commercials Contracts and the 2006 Screen Actors Guild Television Commercials Contract.

The proposed agreements, which cover performers working in commercials made for and reused on television, radio, the Internet, and new media, will net a three-year increase in payments to performers totaling an estimated $36 million, including approximately $21 million in increased contributions to the SAG Pension & Health and AFTRA Health & Retirement plans. The total combined value of the AFTRA and SAG contracts is projected at more than $2.9 billion for working performers, including actors, singers, dancers, choreographers, stunt persons, and extras.

Additionally, the new contracts contain an agreement in principle outlining terms for a pilot study for the purpose of testing the Gross Rating Points (GRP) model of restructuring compensation to performers as proposed by Booz & Co. The two-year study will be conducted by a jointly retained consultant engaged by the unions and the industry. The study will be paid for by grants from Screen Actors Guild-Industry Advancement and Cooperative Fund (IACF) and the AFTRA-Industry Cooperative Fund (AICF).

The unions also successfully established a first-ever payment structure in commercials for the Internet and other new media platforms. The unions established jurisdiction over commercial work made for the Internet in 2000, and new media formats in 2006. The new payment structure goes into effect in the third year of the contract.

The referendum will be mailed to the members of both unions next week (dual SAG and AFTRA members will receive one ballot) with a return date in mid-May. Results will be announced at that time.

Following the vote, AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon and AFTRA Chair of the Joint Negotiating Committee said: “Our new agreement is a major achievement in any economy, but it is especially crucial for union members working to make ends meet in today’s difficult marketplace. I applaud the vision and hard work of the joint committee who worked together to win increases both in performers’ minimum compensation and in employer contributions to our health and pension plans, and who successfully preserved Class A payments so critically important to our members around the country.”

Screen Actors Guild National President Alan Rosenberg said: “I am pleased and gratified to have achieved these gains and to recommend this agreement for ratification. I congratulate all of the parties, and particularly the co-chairs, committee members and staff on the remarkable gains they achieved for actors across the country.”

“It’s a solid agreement with meaningful gains,” said Screen Actors Guild Chair of the Joint Negotiating Committee Sue-Anne Morrow. “There are significant improvements in compensation and benefits for union commercial actors and it gives the industry, including our members, a measure of financial certainty in an uncertain economy. It also guarantees advertisers continued access to the finest actors in the world on whose talent their brand success often rests. It’s a win for actors, a win for the industry, and a win for consumers.”

Screen Actors Guild Chief Negotiator John McGuire, a veteran of more than 10 separate commercials contracts negotiations said: “This is an agreement we can all be proud of and I look forward to ratification by the members of Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA. I commend the negotiating committee chairs, co-chairs, and members, along with my colleagues Ray Rodriguez, Screen Actors Guild’s Deputy National Executive Director of Contracts, and Mathis Dunn, AFTRA’s Chief Negotiator.”

“This is a successful conclusion to a challenging negotiation, conducted during a difficult economic and technological time in the industry. As always, that success rests with the members of our joint committee, our staff and our counterparts at the Joint Policy Committee. Together, we served the interests of actors and the industry,” McGuire added.

AFTRA Assistant National Executive Director Mathis L. Dunn, Jr., who served as AFTRA Chief Negotiator, noted: “I commend all of our union members who participated in the many educational, informational, and wages and working conditions meetings leading up to these negotiations. They delivered a clear message to our joint negotiating committee on their priority issues. I am proud to say that we delivered on these priorities and much more. The agreement will enhance the careers of all working performers today, and protect future generations of union members as technology and consumer tastes shift in the radically changing world of new media.”

Highlights of the new agreement include:

Three-year agreement, term effective April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2012, upon ratification by members of both unions.
5.5% overall increase in wages and other compensation over the life of the contracts, including a 4.43% increase, effective April 1, 2009, in Class A, Wild Spot, and basic cable session and use fees.
For product moved over to the Internet or in New Media, compensation of 1.3 times the minimum session fee for 8 weeks of use and 3.5 times the minimum session fee for one year’s use.
For product made for the Internet or New Media, a new minimum rate structure of 1.3 times the minimum session fee for 8 weeks of use and 3.5 times the minimum session fee for one year’s use, effective in the third year of the contract.
0.5% increases in the employer contribution rate to the AFTRA H&R and SAG P&H plans, and a 0.2% increase in employer contributions to the SAG Industry Advancement Cooperative Fund and the AFTRA-Industry Cooperative Fund, bringing the total contribution rate to 15.5%. Effective in year three, the agreement provides for a cap on P&H and H&R contributions for services covered by the contracts to $1 million per performer, per contract, per year with anticipated net gains in P&H and H&R over the term of the contract.
Secured five new covered jobs for commercial extras, up from 40 to 45.
Established new exclusivity compensation for made-for cable only commercials.
Instituted, for the first time, a contract provision to pay extras a round-trip mileage fee of $8.
Increased foreign use payments under the Spanish Language section of the contract.
The across the board increase under the AFTRA Radio Commercials Contract is 5.35%, in addition to contributions to AFTRA H&R and the AICF.
All of the unions’ proposals regarding diversity issues were addressed in the negotiations.
AFTRA and SAG joint member education and informational meetings will be conducted around the nation to provide members with an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the new agreements prior to voting.

Formal negotiations between the 26-member AFTRA/SAG Joint Negotiating Committee and the Joint Policy Committee (JPC) of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) began on February 23 and concluded on the morning of April 1 in New York City.

About AFTRA
The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO, are the people who entertain and inform America. In 32 Locals across the country, AFTRA members work as actors, journalists, singers, dancers, announcers, hosts, comedians, disc jockeys, and other performers across the media industries including television, radio, cable, sound recordings, music videos, commercials, audiobooks, non-broadcast industrials, interactive games, the Internet, and other digital media. The 70,000 professional performers, broadcasters, and recording artists of AFTRA are working together to protect and improve their jobs, lives, and communities in the 21st century. From new art forms to new technology, AFTRA members embrace change in their work and craft to enhance American culture and society.

About SAG
Screen Actors Guild is the nation’s largest labor union representing working actors. Established in 1933, SAG has a rich history in the American labor movement, from standing up to studios to break long-term engagement contracts in the 1940s to fighting for artists’ rights amid the digital revolution sweeping the entertainment industry in the 21st century. With 20 branches nationwide, SAG represents nearly 120,000 actors who work in film, television, industrials, commercials, video games, music videos and other new media. The Guild exists to enhance actors’ working conditions, compensation and benefits and to be a powerful, unified voice on behalf of artists’ rights. SAG is a proud affiliate of the AFL-CIO. Headquartered in Los Angeles.

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June 2, 2009

Blog Stage: Acting in Film, TV, Theatre: In AD talks, There’s a Whisper of Strike, but Don’t Worry Yet (Mar. 17, 2009)

 

« Casting News — March 17, 2009 | Main | Broadway Will Dim the Lights for Ron Silver »

In Ad Talks, There’s a Whisper of Strike, but Don’t Worry. Yet.

UPDATE: Correcting the composition of SAG’s half of the negotiating committee and adding a statement from SAG-AFTRA.

For actors, there’s bad news, good news, and bad news: The bad news is their unions are planning to ask them for a strike authorization to give them leverage in ongoing talks with the advertising industry; the good news is that the potential conflict figures to be nothing like the freeway pile-up that has characterized attempts by the Screen Actors Guild to get a new TV-and-film contract from the networks and studios; the bad news is, when the performers’ unions are involved, you can’t figure on anything.

 

A source close to negotiations told reporters that a strike-authorization ballot could go out to all members of SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which are bargaining jointly across the table from the advertisers. The source contends that advertisers are asking for rollbacks, including: the elimination of the traditional payment structure for Class A (i.e., national commercials on the five major broadcast networks); caps on contributions to the unions’ pension-and-health plans; stretching the workday from eight hours to 10, which would reduce overtime pay.

A spokesperson for the advertisers was not immediately available to comment.

Later in the day, SAG and AFTRA issued a statement that played down the strike authorization:

“We are making every effort to negotiate a fair contract and remain optimistic that we will bring these talks to a successful conclusion. Today, there was an unauthorized distribution of a draft strike authorization letter. This is one of many contingency documents that we prepare in the course of any negotiations, particularly as we approach the expiration of a contract. Our members understand that this is a normal part of the bargaining process.We will continue to bargain in good faith with the industry in an effort to get a deal.”

Before actors storm the ramparts or worry that they will be out of work more than usual, there are two things to consider, according to a longtime union insider experienced in negotiating. 1) If the strike authorization ballot is sent out, it will be coming not from one wing of one union, but from two unions. “The negotiating committee is made up of 13 AFTRA members and 13 SAG members, [seven] of whom come from SAG-Hollywood,” said the source, who requested anonymity. “It’s a much, much better balanced negotiating committee than” the SAG TV-and-film negotiating committee, which had been dominated by Membership First, the Hollywood-based faction known for its hard-line posture toward management. The committee was replaced by a task force when the national board fired national executive director Doug Allen and replaced him with David White and John T. McGuire.

2) The Joint Policy Committee, which negotiates on behalf of advertisers and advertising agencies, does not usually begin bargaining seriously until the unions have strike authority in hand. In effect, the JPC wants the unions to get strike authority before getting down to brass tacks. “Most of the time, the two sides will negotiate for a few weeks, everybody makes a presentation, they break off for a week or so, and then they [the unions] send out the strike authorization,” the source said.

Other union and management sources contacted during the past few weeks have pleaded ignorance when asked if seeking strike authority is a standard part of the commercial-negotiating choreography. Nevertheless, that the source told Back Stage that this would happen before talks began may lend credence to the theory.

The unions require 75 percent of voting members to approve strike authorization before negotiators could stage a walkout. This could be one reason why SAG’s national board, which is controlled by a slight majority of self-described moderates, has not yet sent out a strike referendum to assist them with the TV/film negotiations. Two concurrent strike referenda, particularly in the current economy, might have been too risky a political move. If one or both of them failed, it would have been disastrous for union negotiators, leaving them with no leverage in trying to negotiate performers’ two most lucrative contracts.

Carefully choreographed or not, the potential move for strike authority still carries a risk, given that actors in SAG, which has more than 120,000 members, are working on no fewer than six expired contracts, including ones for broadcast TV-and-film and basic cable. The commercials contract expires in two weeks.

“This is unprecedented,” said the source of SAG’s situation. “It’s craziness.”

–Andrew Salomon

CORRECTION: A previous posting misstated the number of negotiators from SAG Hollywood. There are seven, not nine. We regret the error.

 
Link here: http://backstage.blogs.com/blogstage/2009/03/tuesday-1.html

The Wrap: SAG/AFTRA – ADVERTISERS WANT UNION ROLLBACKS! (Mar. 18, 2009)

Filed under: Entertainment — showbizreporting @ 10:57 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Employers have proposed cutting contributions to pension, health and retirement funds by more than $20 million.

 

By Lauren Horwitch

UPDATE, 4:25 pm

Strike Watch’s Andrew Salomon has posted a response from SAG and AFTRA to the unions’ draft of a strike-authorization letter posted on TheWrap this morning: 

 

“We are making every effort to negotiate a fair contract and remain optimistic that we will bring these talks to a successful conclusion. Today, there was an unauthorized distribution of a draft strike authorization letter.

 

 

This is one of many contingency documents that we prepare in the course of any negotiations, particularly as we approach the expiration of a contract. Our members understand that this is a normal part of the bargaining process.We will continue to bargain in good faith with the industry in an effort to get a deal.”

 

Earlier…..

The news for SAG just keeps getting worse.


Joint talks between the guild and AFTRA over their respective contracts covering commercials seem to have hit several major roadblocks — and the two unions have already drafted a letter to members seeking strike authorization.


An individual close to the talks has told TheWrap that employers have proposed cutting contributions to pension, health and retirement funds by more than $20 million — and they have yet to respond to the two unions’ proposals for an increase in basic wages and a set pay structure for New Media work.


“From the first day of the negotiations, it has been our intention to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides,” members of the joint negotiating committee said in
the letter. “The issues at stake in these negotiations are critically important and require that we bring our full bargaining power to the table by passing this referendum to authorize a strike in the field of television and radio commercials.”


The news is especially grim for SAG, which is still in a stalemate with the AMPTP over the guild’s TV/theatrical contract. Members of SAG’s national board have reportedly been debating over whether to send out a strike authorization request over that contract, which expired eight months ago.


SAG’s board voted to reject the AMPTP’s “last, best and final” offer on Feb. 19. The AMPTP gave the guild an ultimatum to sign the offer within 60 days or risk getting a worse deal.


SAG leaders have since focused their energy on the commercials negotiations with the ANA-AAAA Joint Policy Committee on Broadcast Talent Relations (JPC), which began Feb. 23 in New York and are scheduled to end on Friday. AFTRA’s Television and Radio Commercials Contracts and SAG’s Television Commercials Contract, which have been extended twice since 2006, expire March 31.


The JPC’s proposed rollback to the unions’ P&H plans is particularly troubling, said TheWrap’s insider close to the talks. The union leaders called the cuts “debilitating” in their strike-authorization letter.


“Despite the potentially devastating impact of the declining global markets on our Plans, the Employers have offered no increases in contributions and continue to press for ‘caps,’ which will cost our plans more than $60 million,” he said.


The strike-authorization letter state the JPC is also seeking “significant changes to the compensation model” and a “’pilot study’ that tests ONLY the industry’s preferred compensation model without an equal study of the unions’ preferred compensation model.”


A representative AFTRA declined to comment. Representatives of SAG, AFTRA and the JPC have not responded to requests for comment or confirmation.


Article here: 
http://www.thewrap.com/article/1939 

Digital Media Law: Actors Commercials Negotiations Detoriate (Mar. 18, 2009)

 

Digital Media Law

 

Actors Commercials Negotiations Deteriorate

Posted: 17 Mar 2009 10:15 PM PDT

Though it gets less play than the stalled SAG TV/theatrical talks, SAG and AFTRA have been jointly negotiating for several weeks with the advertising industry over the commercials contract. That contract is SAG’s second most important, economically, and represents hundreds of millions of dollars per year to SAG alone (I don’t have the AFTRA figures). Now, after industry statements that the negotiations had been going reasonably well, the talks seem to have hit a snag, and the unions may seek a strike authorization vote from their members, reports The Wrap.

The report goes on to say that the unions have already written—and someone has leaked—a draft letter to be sent to the membership of both unions seeking a strike authorization. A separate report in Blog Stage adds that the letter would also include a separate set of pro-authorization talking points, also leaked. (See below for copies of the letter and talking points.) That report cautions that the leaks may be just a negotiating ploy. A statement from SAG and AFTRA described the leak as an “unauthorized distribution of . . . one of many contingency documents that we prepare in the course of any negotiations.”

Nonetheless, I’m guessing the leaks are a trial balloon intended to pressure the Joint Policy Committee, or JPC, representing the advertisers and ad agencies. If the JPC doesn’t move on the issues and if the union membership doesn’t rebel at the idea of an authorization, then we may indeed see an authorization put to a vote of the members. (It’s important to remember that an authorization does not automatically mean a strike, especially since the more strike-averse AFTRA is part of the mix, unlike with the SAG TV/theatrical negotiations, where the more strike-happy hardliners were unconstrained last year.)

So, will the JPC move on the issues in the absence of a strike authorization? Apparently, they often play hardball until a strike authorization vote is held, note the Hollywood Reporter. That seems especially likely today, since the JPC recognizes that SAG is now a fatigued and overextended union, thanks largely to the hardliners’ stalling tactics last year and into January.
 

Those tactics have left SAG actors with virtually no studio theatrical work since June 30 of last year, no increase in minimum compensation levels for TV work (and the theatrical work that does exist), a dramatically diminished share of pilots, and a panoply of expired contracts in other areas. All of this, combined with the state of the economy, leaves SAG members more vulnerable and less likely to support a strike. (AFTRA actors are likewise vulnerable, if for no other reason than the fact that most of them are SAG members as well.) The result is less leverage at the bargaining table for the unions, and more for the JPC.

Speaking of issues, let’s look at the major ones. The fundamental roadblocks are (1) new media and (2) the economy. New media, of course, had been the major stumbling block in the negotiations between SAG and the studios before being at least partially eclipsed by the issue of contract expiration date. Among other things, the current commercials contract apparently has no minimums in new media. The unions want to change that.

As for the economy, it’s reared its ugly hydra-head in several ways. For one thing, the JPC has apparently yet to make an offer regarding wage increases. When they do, don’t count on it to make the unions happy.

On another economic front, the recession has decreased the value of pension plan and individual retirement assets everywhere. In addition, economists worry now about deflation of prices generally, but one area that still features high prices is health care. In this environment of benefits-related anxiety, the JPC is apparently seeking rollbacks and caps on the companies’ contributions to the unions’ pension and health funds. The unions, not surprisingly, want an increase in those contributions.

(Side note: P&H rollbacks also feature in the campaign by some members of IATSE, the union that represents most crew members, to derail that union’s proposed contract with the studios. Ballots are due back tomorrow, March 18—or perhaps have to be postmarked by then, I’m unclear—but either way, we’ll soon know the fate of that agreement. It’s expected to pass.)

Yet another significant issue is a proposal by the JPC to dramatically alter the way residuals are paid for national commercials—so-called Class A residuals. This comes in response to declining viewership of national ads due both to commercial-skipping by DVR users and to audience fragmentation, i.e., viewer migration away from network TV and towards cable TV, video games and the Internet.
 

The JPC says that its proposal is revenue neutral but simply changes allocations—in other words, that some union members would gain (those doing cable and Internet commercials), others would lose (those doing national broadcast network commercials), but as a whole they would receive the same amount of residuals in aggregate. (The same amount as what? As today? As under the union proposal? I don’t have the details, because there’s a news blackout.) The unions appear skeptical.

There’s a multi-way struggle here, by the way, because actors (and other production expenses) are only one aspect of the advertising cost structure. The other, of course, is the cost to air the ads—i.e., the prices that the networks and other outlets charge. That means that the more the networks push to maintain ad prices in the face of declining viewership and a softening ad market (which results from the slackening demand for consumer products), the less money the advertisers can afford to spend on production. Thus, they put the squeeze on actors. In a struggle between networks and actors for piece of the advertisers’ purse, guess who’s likely to win.

So, theatrical production is stalled and likely to stay depressed even after (if?) the stalemate ends, scripted television is eroding, advertising is soft, and the Internet pays everyone (producers and talent alike) mere pennies on the dollar. What’s a thesp to do? “Keep your day job” is too flip a response, but it sure isn’t an easy time to be an actor.

———————

In other Hollywood labor news, Variety reports that SAG interim National Executive Director David White sent SAG members a message today stating that, although no new formal talks with the studios are set, union negotiators are working behind the scenes to achieve a deal. No word on what exactly that means,

Meanwhile, SAG president Alan Rosenberg’s lawsuit against his own union slowly winds its way through the legal system. Rosenberg ’s lawyers filed some documents last week. I doubt they’re significant, but don’t know, because I haven’t seen them. The lawsuit seems, at least for now, to be a mere sideshow, but even defeats at both the lower court and appellate level haven’t deterred Rosenberg and his fellow plaintiffs (1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord) from pursuing their now-moot claims.

In another development, the WGA is cutting 10% of its staff, Variety reports. The causes: (1) a recession-caused decline in value of the WGA’s investment portfolio; (2) a reduction in dues-generating work for WGA members, due to last year’s writers strike and no doubt exacerbated by the slow decline in scripted television; and (3) expenses incurred in the so-far unsuccessful attempts to organize reality TV and animation. The WGA had no comment, says Variety.

———————

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———————

Here’s the draft letter. The underlined text at the beginning was in the letter as provided; it was not written by me.

 

POTENTIAL DRAFT LETTER FROM UNIONS RE: STRIKE AUTHORIZATION… IF PROGRESS IS NOT MADE, THEY WILL SEEK A STRIKE AUTHORIZATION VOTE FROM MEMBERS.

 

2009 COMMERCIALS CONTRACTS

Strike Authorization Ballot

 

To All Members of Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA:

 

Your AFTRA and SAG Presidents, Joint Board of Directors and Joint Negotiating Committee urge you to read this vital report, VOTE YES and mail your ballot today authorizing your Joint Board of Directors to call a strike in the field of television and radio commercials ONLY IF IT BECOMES ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to achieve fair and equitable successor agreements.

 

PLEASE NOTE that these negotiations cover all AFTRA and SAG principal and extra performers employed in English and Spanish television and radio commercials. Employment in the following contract areas IS NOT affected by these negotiations: theatrical films, television and radio programs, news, industrial/educational and non-broadcast productions, sound recordings, music videos, interactive programs/video games and entertainment programs made for the Internet or New Media.

 

In today’s economy, SAG and AFTRA members need strong contracts more than ever. The industry is proposing major rollbacks that include:

 

• Significant changes to the compensation model

• A “pilot study” that tests ONLY the industry’s preferred compensation model without an equal study of the unions’ preferred compensation model

• Debilitating reductions in contributions to our P&H and H&R plans

 

Since February 23, your joint AFTRA/SAG negotiating team has been bargaining in New York City with the Joint Policy Committee (JPC) of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) for new, three-year contracts covering the terms of your employment in television and radio commercials. From the first day of the negotiations, it has been our intention to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides. The issues at stake in these negotiations are critically important and require that we bring our full bargaining power to the table by passing this referendum to authorize a strike in the field of television and radio commercials.

 

In 2006, the Industry invoked language in the Commercials Contracts that required the Unions to explore alternate methods of compensation for principal performers in commercials. This led to a seven month, $1.3 million study by the consulting firm of Booz Allen Hamilton (now called Booz & Co.) commissioned jointly by the Industry and the Unions. Booz & Co. recommended a number of alternative methods of compensation including an “Adjusting Tiers” proposal that the Unions favor and a Gross Ratings Points (GRP) proposal favored by the Industry. Booz & Co. also made recommendations regarding the Internet and New Media, including the elimination of free bargaining, which is favored by the unions.

 

Your joint negotiating team has sought to continue the cooperative approach to this process that the Unions have exhibited from the very beginning. The JPC, however, has insisted that the only compensation model open to further exploration is the GRP model – the industry’s favored option. The Industry has also proposed an accelerated timetable for a “pilot study” to test their GRP proposal. At the conclusion of this study, our ability to agree to implementation of the new system would be taken away from us and placed in the hands of a third party consultant.

 

While your joint negotiating team believes it is important to be open minded about the possibilities for adapting our contracts to changing times, we strongly feel that any changes to our basic compensation structure must be pursued with care and deliberation. Further, any changes should only considered after full and unfettered analysis by the unions of the results of a pilot study that evaluates BOTH the Industry’s favored option and ours. We also believe it is important to act on Booz & Co.’s recommendation to eliminate free bargaining and establish minimums for commercials made for the Internet and New Media—a subject the Industry has not addressed.

 

At the same time, the Industry has demanded debilitating rollbacks in contributions to our P&H and H&R plans. By once again proposing a “cap” on contributions, the Industry threatens to eliminate tens of millions of dollars in contributions from our Plans, just as the Plans are suffering through the fallout of the current recession. The Industry also seeks to change the way contributions are made on multiservice contracts, which could even further reduce contributions to the Plans.

 

The AFTRA and SAG commercials contracts provide an important and often critical source of income to thousands of our members across the country. The national commercials contracts set rates and benefits for national commercials and ad campaigns in the major markets and across the country. The SAG and AFTRA commercials contracts support more of our members and their families than almost any other contract.

 

Your joint negotiating team is fully aware of the economic realities we are facing today and the challenges of negotiating in such an environment. However, rollbacks of this magnitude have such negative consequences that they must be met with determination and conviction from our members.

 

Your joint negotiating team will continue to fight for a fair contract and we hope to achieve such a contract without a work stoppage. Management must know, however, that you the members of AFTRA and SAG stand firm and united in your resolve to obtain equitable commercials contracts that do not decimate or negatively affect either of our Health or Pension Plans.

 

Your YES vote on the enclosed strike authorization ballot is necessary to send a strong message of clarity, strength and solidarity to management.

 

———————

Here are the unions’ talking points.

 

EMPLOYER RESPONSE TO UNIONS’ PROPOSALS:

 

• BASIC WAGES—Employers have made no wage offer.

 

• PENSION, HEALTH AND RETIREMENT—Despite the potentially devastating impact of the declining global markets on our Plans, the Employers have offered no increases in contributions and continue to press for “caps,” which will cost our Plans more than $60 million.

 

• CABLE—Employers have not responded to the Unions’ proposal to remove the “cap” on cable units despite a finding by Booz & Co. that cable is greatly undervalued [OR: “is an area of tremendous growth and earnings for advertisers.”]. Nor have they responded to the Unions’ proposal to extend exclusivity and holding fees to cover commercials made for national cable networks.

 

• INTERNET & NEW MEDIA—Employers have not addressed the Unions’ proposals for fair payment structures to replace the current experimental “free bargaining” approach to the Internet & New Media, which fails to provide any minimums at all.

 

• MONITORING—Employers have not responded to the Unions’ comprehensive proposal on monitoring.

 

• LIQUIDATED DAMAGES FOR LATE PAYMENT—Employers have not responded to the Unions’ proposal to increase damages for late payment of wages for the first time since 1978.

 

• SPANISH LANGUAGE—Employers have responded to the Unions’ proposal to rectify the decades-old refusal to pay “Class A” use fees for commercials on Spanish Language networks by proposing to roll back existing protections for Spanish Language performers.

 

• PREFERENCE & EXTRA COVERAGE ZONES—Employers have not responded to the Unions’ proposal to apply the contract to extra performers and to require preference of employment for professional performers in Charlotte , North Carolina and Austin , Texas .

 

• STUNT DRIVERS—Unions have proposed that Employers pay stunt drivers residuals when they sell the Employer’s product. Employers have responded by proposing to narrow the circumstances when stunt performers are entitled to residuals and to make it more difficult for them to file upgrade claims.

 

• SINGERS, DANCERS & CHOREOGRAPHERS—Employers have not addressed the Unions’ proposals to improve working conditions for dancers, to protect singers against automatic renewal at old rates, and to provide a limited ability for choreographers who have done covered work in at least 5 prior years to earn eligibility for benefits.

 

EMPLOYER ROLLBACKS:

 

• ELIMINATE “CLASS A”—Employers have proposed a radical, untested new system for compensating performers in national commercials that eliminates the current “Class A” payment structure, as well as the current structure for national cable commercials.

 

• DECREASE CONTRIBUTIONS TO PENSION, HEALTH, AND RETIREMENT BY OVER $20 MILLION—Employers have proposed implementing a “cap” over which they would not make contributions to P&H or H&R. This will cost the Plans at least $20 million at a time when they are already suffering due to the bad economy. Employers have also proposed changes in how contributions are made on multiservice contracts that will likely further reduce contributions.

 

• OVERTIME—Employers have proposed that overtime apply only after 10 hours worked in a day instead of 8 and that double-time not apply until after 60 hours worked in a week, with no double-time for hours worked beyond 10 in a day.

 

• DOWNGRADES—Employers have proposed changes that will allow downgrades even when the performer’s face remains in the commercial, eliminate the requirement to pay a session fee to a downgraded performer and increase the notice period for downgrades from 60 days to 13 weeks.

 

• HOLDING FEE—Employers have proposed to pay holding fees within 10 days of the end of a fixed cycle instead of by the first day of each fixed cycle, as presently required, postponing not only the payment to the performer, but the point at which the performer can accept a competitive commercial.

 

• STUNT PERFORMERS—Employers have proposed narrowing the definition of “stunt” to require an actual hazard to the performer regardless of the level of skill involved. They have also proposed making it even more difficult for stunt performers to file upgrade claims, including a new requirement to file within 48 hours.

 

• SPANISH LANGUAGE—Employers have proposed eliminating the premium Spanish-language performers must be paid to hold their exclusivity in English-language commercials making it even harder for Spanish-language performers to make a living.

 

• UNION LIABILITY—Employers have proposed that the unions pay them a TRIPLE session fee whenever a performer cancels an engagement on less than 24 hours notice and that the unions play an aggressive role in disciplining our own members for breaching exclusivity.

 

Actors Commercials Negotiations Deteriorate

Posted: 17 Mar 2009 10:15 PM PDT

Though it gets less play than the stalled SAG TV/theatrical talks, SAG and AFTRA have been jointly negotiating for several weeks with the advertising industry over the commercials contract. That contract is SAG’s second most important, economically, and represents hundreds of millions of dollars per year to SAG alone (I don’t have the AFTRA figures). Now, after industry statements that the negotiations had been going reasonably well, the talks seem to have hit a snag, and the unions may seek a strike authorization vote from their members, reports The Wrap.

The report goes on to say that the unions have already written—and someone has leaked—a draft letter to be sent to the membership of both unions seeking a strike authorization. A separate report in Blog Stage adds that the letter would also include a separate set of pro-authorization talking points, also leaked. (See below for copies of the letter and talking points.) That report cautions that the leaks may be just a negotiating ploy. A statement from SAG and AFTRA described the leak as an “unauthorized distribution of . . . one of many contingency documents that we prepare in the course of any negotiations.”

Nonetheless, I’m guessing the leaks are a trial balloon intended to pressure the Joint Policy Committee, or JPC, representing the advertisers and ad agencies. If the JPC doesn’t move on the issues and if the union membership doesn’t rebel at the idea of an authorization, then we may indeed see an authorization put to a vote of the members. (It’s important to remember that an authorization does not automatically mean a strike, especially since the more strike-averse AFTRA is part of the mix, unlike with the SAG TV/theatrical negotiations, where the more strike-happy hardliners were unconstrained last year.)

So, will the JPC move on the issues in the absence of a strike authorization? Apparently, they often play hardball until a strike authorization vote is held, note the Hollywood Reporter. That seems especially likely today, since the JPC recognizes that SAG is now a fatigued and overextended union, thanks largely to the hardliners’ stalling tactics last year and into January.
 

Those tactics have left SAG actors with virtually no studio theatrical work since June 30 of last year, no increase in minimum compensation levels for TV work (and the theatrical work that does exist), a dramatically diminished share of pilots, and a panoply of expired contracts in other areas. All of this, combined with the state of the economy, leaves SAG members more vulnerable and less likely to support a strike. (AFTRA actors are likewise vulnerable, if for no other reason than the fact that most of them are SAG members as well.) The result is less leverage at the bargaining table for the unions, and more for the JPC.

Speaking of issues, let’s look at the major ones. The fundamental roadblocks are (1) new media and (2) the economy. New media, of course, had been the major stumbling block in the negotiations between SAG and the studios before being at least partially eclipsed by the issue of contract expiration date. Among other things, the current commercials contract apparently has no minimums in new media. The unions want to change that.

As for the economy, it’s reared its ugly hydra-head in several ways. For one thing, the JPC has apparently yet to make an offer regarding wage increases. When they do, don’t count on it to make the unions happy.

On another economic front, the recession has decreased the value of pension plan and individual retirement assets everywhere. In addition, economists worry now about deflation of prices generally, but one area that still features high prices is health care. In this environment of benefits-related anxiety, the JPC is apparently seeking rollbacks and caps on the companies’ contributions to the unions’ pension and health funds. The unions, not surprisingly, want an increase in those contributions.

(Side note: P&H rollbacks also feature in the campaign by some members of IATSE, the union that represents most crew members, to derail that union’s proposed contract with the studios. Ballots are due back tomorrow, March 18—or perhaps have to be postmarked by then, I’m unclear—but either way, we’ll soon know the fate of that agreement. It’s expected to pass.)

Yet another significant issue is a proposal by the JPC to dramatically alter the way residuals are paid for national commercials—so-called Class A residuals. This comes in response to declining viewership of national ads due both to commercial-skipping by DVR users and to audience fragmentation, i.e., viewer migration away from network TV and towards cable TV, video games and the Internet.
 

The JPC says that its proposal is revenue neutral but simply changes allocations—in other words, that some union members would gain (those doing cable and Internet commercials), others would lose (those doing national broadcast network commercials), but as a whole they would receive the same amount of residuals in aggregate. (The same amount as what? As today? As under the union proposal? I don’t have the details, because there’s a news blackout.) The unions appear skeptical.

There’s a multi-way struggle here, by the way, because actors (and other production expenses) are only one aspect of the advertising cost structure. The other, of course, is the cost to air the ads—i.e., the prices that the networks and other outlets charge. That means that the more the networks push to maintain ad prices in the face of declining viewership and a softening ad market (which results from the slackening demand for consumer products), the less money the advertisers can afford to spend on production. Thus, they put the squeeze on actors. In a struggle between networks and actors for piece of the advertisers’ purse, guess who’s likely to win.

So, theatrical production is stalled and likely to stay depressed even after (if?) the stalemate ends, scripted television is eroding, advertising is soft, and the Internet pays everyone (producers and talent alike) mere pennies on the dollar. What’s a thesp to do? “Keep your day job” is too flip a response, but it sure isn’t an easy time to be an actor.

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In other Hollywood labor news, Variety reports that SAG interim National Executive Director David White sent SAG members a message today stating that, although no new formal talks with the studios are set, union negotiators are working behind the scenes to achieve a deal. No word on what exactly that means,

Meanwhile, SAG president Alan Rosenberg’s lawsuit against his own union slowly winds its way through the legal system. Rosenberg ’s lawyers filed some documents last week. I doubt they’re significant, but don’t know, because I haven’t seen them. The lawsuit seems, at least for now, to be a mere sideshow, but even defeats at both the lower court and appellate level haven’t deterred Rosenberg and his fellow plaintiffs (1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord) from pursuing their now-moot claims.

In another development, the WGA is cutting 10% of its staff, Variety reports. The causes: (1) a recession-caused decline in value of the WGA’s investment portfolio; (2) a reduction in dues-generating work for WGA members, due to last year’s writers strike and no doubt exacerbated by the slow decline in scripted television; and (3) expenses incurred in the so-far unsuccessful attempts to organize reality TV and animation. The WGA had no comment, says Variety.

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Here’s the draft letter. The underlined text at the beginning was in the letter as provided; it was not written by me.

 

POTENTIAL DRAFT LETTER FROM UNIONS RE: STRIKE AUTHORIZATION… IF PROGRESS IS NOT MADE, THEY WILL SEEK A STRIKE AUTHORIZATION VOTE FROM MEMBERS.

 

2009 COMMERCIALS CONTRACTS

Strike Authorization Ballot

 

To All Members of Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA:

 

Your AFTRA and SAG Presidents, Joint Board of Directors and Joint Negotiating Committee urge you to read this vital report, VOTE YES and mail your ballot today authorizing your Joint Board of Directors to call a strike in the field of television and radio commercials ONLY IF IT BECOMES ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to achieve fair and equitable successor agreements.

 

PLEASE NOTE that these negotiations cover all AFTRA and SAG principal and extra performers employed in English and Spanish television and radio commercials. Employment in the following contract areas IS NOT affected by these negotiations: theatrical films, television and radio programs, news, industrial/educational and non-broadcast productions, sound recordings, music videos, interactive programs/video games and entertainment programs made for the Internet or New Media.

 

In today’s economy, SAG and AFTRA members need strong contracts more than ever. The industry is proposing major rollbacks that include:

 

• Significant changes to the compensation model

• A “pilot study” that tests ONLY the industry’s preferred compensation model without an equal study of the unions’ preferred compensation model

• Debilitating reductions in contributions to our P&H and H&R plans

 

Since February 23, your joint AFTRA/SAG negotiating team has been bargaining in New York City with the Joint Policy Committee (JPC) of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) for new, three-year contracts covering the terms of your employment in television and radio commercials. From the first day of the negotiations, it has been our intention to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides. The issues at stake in these negotiations are critically important and require that we bring our full bargaining power to the table by passing this referendum to authorize a strike in the field of television and radio commercials.

 

In 2006, the Industry invoked language in the Commercials Contracts that required the Unions to explore alternate methods of compensation for principal performers in commercials. This led to a seven month, $1.3 million study by the consulting firm of Booz Allen Hamilton (now called Booz & Co.) commissioned jointly by the Industry and the Unions. Booz & Co. recommended a number of alternative methods of compensation including an “Adjusting Tiers” proposal that the Unions favor and a Gross Ratings Points (GRP) proposal favored by the Industry. Booz & Co. also made recommendations regarding the Internet and New Media, including the elimination of free bargaining, which is favored by the unions.

 

Your joint negotiating team has sought to continue the cooperative approach to this process that the Unions have exhibited from the very beginning. The JPC, however, has insisted that the only compensation model open to further exploration is the GRP model – the industry’s favored option. The Industry has also proposed an accelerated timetable for a “pilot study” to test their GRP proposal. At the conclusion of this study, our ability to agree to implementation of the new system would be taken away from us and placed in the hands of a third party consultant.

 

While your joint negotiating team believes it is important to be open minded about the possibilities for adapting our contracts to changing times, we strongly feel that any changes to our basic compensation structure must be pursued with care and deliberation. Further, any changes should only considered after full and unfettered analysis by the unions of the results of a pilot study that evaluates BOTH the Industry’s favored option and ours. We also believe it is important to act on Booz & Co.’s recommendation to eliminate free bargaining and establish minimums for commercials made for the Internet and New Media—a subject the Industry has not addressed.

 

At the same time, the Industry has demanded debilitating rollbacks in contributions to our P&H and H&R plans. By once again proposing a “cap” on contributions, the Industry threatens to eliminate tens of millions of dollars in contributions from our Plans, just as the Plans are suffering through the fallout of the current recession. The Industry also seeks to change the way contributions are made on multiservice contracts, which could even further reduce contributions to the Plans.

 

The AFTRA and SAG commercials contracts provide an important and often critical source of income to thousands of our members across the country. The national commercials contracts set rates and benefits for national commercials and ad campaigns in the major markets and across the country. The SAG and AFTRA commercials contracts support more of our members and their families than almost any other contract.

 

Your joint negotiating team is fully aware of the economic realities we are facing today and the challenges of negotiating in such an environment. However, rollbacks of this magnitude have such negative consequences that they must be met with determination and conviction from our members.

 

Your joint negotiating team will continue to fight for a fair contract and we hope to achieve such a contract without a work stoppage. Management must know, however, that you the members of AFTRA and SAG stand firm and united in your resolve to obtain equitable commercials contracts that do not decimate or negatively affect either of our Health or Pension Plans.

 

Your YES vote on the enclosed strike authorization ballot is necessary to send a strong message of clarity, strength and solidarity to management.

 

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Here are the unions’ talking points.

 

EMPLOYER RESPONSE TO UNIONS’ PROPOSALS:

 

• BASIC WAGES—Employers have made no wage offer.

 

• PENSION, HEALTH AND RETIREMENT—Despite the potentially devastating impact of the declining global markets on our Plans, the Employers have offered no increases in contributions and continue to press for “caps,” which will cost our Plans more than $60 million.

 

• CABLE—Employers have not responded to the Unions’ proposal to remove the “cap” on cable units despite a finding by Booz & Co. that cable is greatly undervalued [OR: “is an area of tremendous growth and earnings for advertisers.”]. Nor have they responded to the Unions’ proposal to extend exclusivity and holding fees to cover commercials made for national cable networks.

 

• INTERNET & NEW MEDIA—Employers have not addressed the Unions’ proposals for fair payment structures to replace the current experimental “free bargaining” approach to the Internet & New Media, which fails to provide any minimums at all.

 

• MONITORING—Employers have not responded to the Unions’ comprehensive proposal on monitoring.

 

• LIQUIDATED DAMAGES FOR LATE PAYMENT—Employers have not responded to the Unions’ proposal to increase damages for late payment of wages for the first time since 1978.

 

• SPANISH LANGUAGE—Employers have responded to the Unions’ proposal to rectify the decades-old refusal to pay “Class A” use fees for commercials on Spanish Language networks by proposing to roll back existing protections for Spanish Language performers.

 

• PREFERENCE & EXTRA COVERAGE ZONES—Employers have not responded to the Unions’ proposal to apply the contract to extra performers and to require preference of employment for professional performers in Charlotte , North Carolina and Austin , Texas .

 

• STUNT DRIVERS—Unions have proposed that Employers pay stunt drivers residuals when they sell the Employer’s product. Employers have responded by proposing to narrow the circumstances when stunt performers are entitled to residuals and to make it more difficult for them to file upgrade claims.

 

• SINGERS, DANCERS & CHOREOGRAPHERS—Employers have not addressed the Unions’ proposals to improve working conditions for dancers, to protect singers against automatic renewal at old rates, and to provide a limited ability for choreographers who have done covered work in at least 5 prior years to earn eligibility for benefits.

 

EMPLOYER ROLLBACKS:

 

• ELIMINATE “CLASS A”—Employers have proposed a radical, untested new system for compensating performers in national commercials that eliminates the current “Class A” payment structure, as well as the current structure for national cable commercials.

 

• DECREASE CONTRIBUTIONS TO PENSION, HEALTH, AND RETIREMENT BY OVER $20 MILLION—Employers have proposed implementing a “cap” over which they would not make contributions to P&H or H&R. This will cost the Plans at least $20 million at a time when they are already suffering due to the bad economy. Employers have also proposed changes in how contributions are made on multiservice contracts that will likely further reduce contributions.

 

• OVERTIME—Employers have proposed that overtime apply only after 10 hours worked in a day instead of 8 and that double-time not apply until after 60 hours worked in a week, with no double-time for hours worked beyond 10 in a day.

 

• DOWNGRADES—Employers have proposed changes that will allow downgrades even when the performer’s face remains in the commercial, eliminate the requirement to pay a session fee to a downgraded performer and increase the notice period for downgrades from 60 days to 13 weeks.

 

• HOLDING FEE—Employers have proposed to pay holding fees within 10 days of the end of a fixed cycle instead of by the first day of each fixed cycle, as presently required, postponing not only the payment to the performer, but the point at which the performer can accept a competitive commercial.

 

• STUNT PERFORMERS—Employers have proposed narrowing the definition of “stunt” to require an actual hazard to the performer regardless of the level of skill involved. They have also proposed making it even more difficult for stunt performers to file upgrade claims, including a new requirement to file within 48 hours.

 

• SPANISH LANGUAGE—Employers have proposed eliminating the premium Spanish-language performers must be paid to hold their exclusivity in English-language commercials making it even harder for Spanish-language performers to make a living.

 

• UNION LIABILITY—Employers have proposed that the unions pay them a TRIPLE session fee whenever a performer cancels an engagement on less than 24 hours notice and that the unions play an aggressive role in disciplining our own members for breaching exclusivity. 

Digital Media Law: SAG REJECTED STUDIO OFFER; BACK TO STALEMATE (FEB. 22, 2009)

Digital Media Law  
SAG Rejects Studio Offer; Back to Stalemate

By a vote of 73% to 27%, the Screen Actors Guild board of directors voted Saturday to reject the studios’ most recent offer, which the studio alliance, the AMPTP, had delivered two days earlier. Thus, the offer will not be sent out to the membership for a ratification vote. Nor, however, does the rejection mean that there will be a strike, since the union has not (as yet, at least) sent a strike authorization vote to the membership. There are no further meetings scheduled between the two sides.
 

What next? No doubt there will be attempts at back-channel talks, but, if so, progress is likely to be slow at best. The studio offer by its terms was to remain on the table for up to 60 days. Now that it’s been formally rejected, however, the studios could presumably impose the proposed deal unilaterally. Or, they could lock actors out. Neither action seems likely though, since either one would tend to unify the SAG membership, and neither approach would give the studios what they want (particularly in the feature realm), which is the absolute assurance that the union won’t strike. That complete assurance comes only when a signed contract is in place.

Thus, the most likely result is continued stalemate. Indeed, in the short term, SAG has other fish to fry: the negotiations over the commercials contract begin Monday. That agreement is SAG’s second most important contract economically. Fresh from today’s boardroom, the union’s leaders must now decamp for New York , where they, along with AFTRA leaders and the two unions’ joint commercials negotiating committee, face off against the Joint Policy Committee (JPC), representing advertisers and ad agencies.

Meanwhile, SAG’s main objection to the AMPTP offer is not new media per se, but the rather more prosaic issue of contract expiration date. SAG wants the contract to expire June 30, 2011, which would put in synch with AFTRA and just a couple months later than the Writers Guild. That synchronicity, with its threat of a possible joint strike, would give the unions negotiating leverage in 2011. They’ll need that leverage to effectively bargain over new media, which will have grown in economic importance by then, perhaps dramatically.

The studios, however, want a three-year deal, which is the usual term for Hollywood labor agreements, and the offer rejected today so reflects. That would put SAG’s expiration in early 2012, or almost a year later than the WGA’s. The stage would be set for a repetition of this year’s labor scenario, in which the SAG deal expired 8 months after the WGA’s did (in fall 2007). Indeed, with a desynchronized expiration date, SAG could find itself playing a weak hand every three years for future negotiating cycles to come. As new media continues to evolve, SAG would find itself entering increasingly difficult negotiations with little leverage.

The studio offer includes an unusual wrinkle: the SAG deal will be allowed to expire on June 30, 2011 (which is the same date the AFTRA agreement expires), but only if SAG and AFTRA jointly bargain and reach a deal before that date. In other words, the two unions would be able to bargain jointly, but SAG would not have a strike threat to back up its negotiating position.

Below are statements released by SAG and the AMPTP.

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STATEMENT FROM SAG NATIONAL BOARD OF DIRECTORS — SAG NATIONAL BOARD REJECTS AMPTP LAST, BEST AND FINAL OFFER

Los Angeles, (February 21, 2009) – The Screen Actors Guild National Board of Directors today voted 73% to 27% to “reject the AMPTPs last, best and final offer dated February 19, 2009.”

We entered this round of negotiations sending an unmistakably clear message that we were ready to make a deal. In an effort to put the town back to work, our negotiator agreed to modify the Guild’s bargaining position to bring the Guild in line with the deals made by our sister unions.

The AMPTPs last-minute, surprise demand for a new term of agreement extending to 2012 is regressive and damaging and clearly signals the employers’ unwillingness to agree to the deal they established with other entertainment unions. The demand for a new term of agreement was not part of their final offer of June 30, 2008; it was not part of the federally mediated talks of November 2008, and should not have been inserted into the discussions when we returned to negotiations on February 17, 2009.

What management presented as a compromise is, in fact, an attempt to separate Screen Actors Guild from other industry unions. By attempting to extend our contract expiration one year beyond the other entertainment unions, the AMPTP intends to deleverage our bargaining position from this point forward.

Screen Actors Guild’s goal is to successfully complete these negotiations and get the industry back to work as soon as possible. The AMPTP has clearly stated their need and desire for financial certainty and industry peace. This new proposal does the exact opposite, and will only result in constant negotiating cycles and continued labor unrest.

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Statement by the AMPTP


The Producers’ offer is strong and fair – and has been judged to be strong and fair by all of Hollywood’s other major Guilds and Unions. We have kept our offer on the table – and even enhanced it – despite the historically unprecedented economic crisis that has clobbered our nation and our industry.

The Producers have always sought a full three-year deal with SAG, just as we negotiated with all the other Unions and Guilds, and have offered SAG a way to achieve an earlier expiration date without contributing to further labor uncertainty. We simply cannot offer SAG a better deal than the rest of the industry achieved under far better economic conditions than those now confronting our industry.

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