SAG-AFTRA to begin contract negotiations May 5

David White, national executive director of SAG-AFTRA, will be the union's chief negotiator in contract talks set to begin next month.
(Stefano Paltera/For The Times)

SAG-AFTRA, the union representing about 165,000 actors and other performers, said it will begin negotiations with Hollywood’s major studios on a new film and television contract May 5.

The talks will be closely watched as they mark the first time the union has bargained on a film and TV contract since SAG merged with its smaller rival union, AFTRA, two years ago. Proponents of the merger argued that combining the groups would give them more clout in negotiations with the studios, which had contentious relations with the Screen Actors Guild in the past, including a near strike in 2008.

At a meeting Sunday, SAG-AFTRA’s board unanimously approved the May 5 start date for contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television producers, as well as a package of bargaining proposals that it did not disclose. The current film and TV contract expires June 30.

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SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard will lead the negotiations, and SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White will be the union’s chief negotiator. In February, White was considered as a leading candidate to be director of the NBA Players Assn., but the players union is still conducting its search. In the meantime, White has committed to remain with SAG-AFTRA until the negotiations are finalized.

Any contract is likely to be modeled on similar agreements recently negotiated by the Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America. Both of those deals included modest pay increases and higher contributions to the unions’ pension plans.

Among the main priorities in the SAG-AFTRA talks is to bring uniformity to TV contracts, which still operate under terms negotiated by the the formerly separate unions.

Also at Sunday’s meeting, the SAG-AFTRA board approved a $94-million budget for fiscal year 2015 that is expected to result in a $3-million surplus. The improved financial outlook comes a year after the union cut about 15% of its staff to reduce costs.

Union officials also disclosed that they had slashed the time for processing residuals -- the royalties that performers receive for reruns of their work -- from more than 90 days to under 30 days. Average residuals check volume has grown significantly, from 2.9 million checks in 2012 to 3.5 million checks in 2013.

“We’ve substantially improved our performance in this area, and we will continue to find ways to improve our process while focusing our attention on other operational challenges,” White said in a statement.


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