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Film–TV Pact Talks On

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The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists will begin negotiations Monday with the major studios and television networks on a new feature-film and TV contract. SAG and AFTRA issued a joint statement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers Tuesday afternoon, saying the talks will occur at AMPTP headquarters in Encino, Calif.

According to the statement, SAG President Melissa Gilbert will head the SAG delegation, along with chief negotiator Robert Pisano, SAG's national executive director/chief executive officer. AFTRA President John Connolly will head the AFTRA troops; Greg Hessinger, the union's national executive director, will serve as lead negotiator. The chief negotiator for the AMPTP will be President J. Nicholas Counter.

A news blackout will be in effect during the talks.

In late November, Seth Oster, SAG's deputy national executive director for communications, told Back Stage, "In terms of our priorities, we have been consistently clear about what they are: greater contributions to the health and pension plans, a fairer share of the residuals pie, strengthened television agreements, and greater protections for background and stunt performers. These are the issues we will bargain."

As for residuals, DVDs have been a major issue in union talks with producers since the Writers Guild of America emphasized them as a top priority going into negotiations earlier this year. The AMPTP's refusal to increase DVD residuals was a major reason the WGA walked away from the table in early June, denouncing the producers' final pact offer. The writers proceeded to work without a contract for the next several months.

The score turned in the AMPTP's favor in late September, when the Directors Guild of America cut an early new deal with no increased DVD residuals. The directors opted instead for new gains in health care, avoiding depletion of the union's health plan by taking the producers' offer to increase the health fund to a $40 million reserve by 2008.

That left the WGA with little hope of seeing an increase in DVD residuals and led the writers in early October to reach a new three-year pact—a $58 million package that increased health-care contributions, wage minimums, and TV residuals, but not DVD residuals. The new pact will increase funding for the writers' health fund by $40 million over the next four years. WGA members approved the new contract on Nov. 23.

That would seem to set the pattern for the coming SAG–AFTRA talks. Producers unwilling to budge on DVD residuals with directors and writers probably won't suddenly turn flexible with actors. So the two unions will most likely look to increase the coffers of their own health plans instead.

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