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Ballots, Views Mailed

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) mailed out ballots this week on the proposed new three-year, $200 million feature film and TV pact, known as the Television/Theatrical contract.

The mailing also includes a one-page introductory letter with highlights of the pact, signed by the two unions' presidents and staff chiefs; a seven-page summary of proposed amendments to the contract; and pro and con statements of two pages each.

The introductory letter reiterates points emphasized by the unions' administrations earlier this year when negotiators finalized the pact. Those points are listed in the unions' pro statement as well. They include a 9 percent raise over three years "for all performers in every category," which is "worth $144 million"; the creation of 75,000 new background jobs on the West Coast over the life of the pact, "the largest increase in 13 years"; and funds for the unions' health and pension plans worth $60 million.

A struggle has existed within SAG since the first preliminary approval of the new contract. The negotiating committee itself was split 17-9 in okaying the pact and forwarding it to SAG and AFTRA's joint board of directors. Before the joint board's vote, the SAG Hollywood board voted 36-3 in a statement of opposition to the new agreement. Despite that opposition, however, the SAG-AFTRA joint board voted 71.4% to 28.6% to approve the pact and send it to members for a final vote.

The Hollywood leaders are primarily responsible for the con statement being sent to voting members. The pro and con missives battle primarily over the issue of DVD residuals and the presence of "rollbacks" in the new pact.

On the subject of DVD residuals, the con side states, "No increase in DVD/home video residuals. TV or movie casts, regardless of size, share about 12 cents per DVD/home video. Though there has been an explosive increase in DVD sales, there has been no increase in our share of this $22 billion-per-year industry. If performers shared a mere 24 cents per DVD, we would earn over $700 million during the next three years. That's $700 million into our pockets and our pension and health plans."

The pro side argues, "We fought for an increase in DVD residuals at the outset and throughout the negotiations. The employers were intransigent and their position never wavered. Neither the DGA nor the WGA made any progress in this area. Our proposal was on the table to the very end. Being righteous in your demand is not enough; at some point you also have to be smart about making hard choices." The DGA is the Directors Guild of America and the WGA is the Writers Guild of America.

The unions' administration also points out in its cover letter, "Fortunately, our members have seen a nearly 9 percent annual increase in our share of DVD residuals over the past decade, and a 54 percent increase over just the last three reported years -- $115 million last year alone."

As for rollbacks -- financial breaks to producers through cuts in payments to performers -- the pro statement acknowledges that the contract includes rollbacks in three areas, by:

- Deferring benefits increases on pilots and new one-hour dramas until the end of the contract, when the rate will revert to 14.5 percent;

- Allowing a 60-day rerun of a new series' first three episodes without payment of residuals to series regulars; and

- Providing for a six-week use of show clips to promote new-series programming.

"We believe limited short-term sacrifice is necessary for long-term gain," the pro statement asserts. "The rewards for actors are greater if a series can remain on the air long enough to find its audience, generating more work and more residual payments."

The con statement also cites these three rollbacks, as well as two regarding AFTRA specifically. It complains that while the current contract requires that all background performers on AFTRA productions belong to the union, the new contract removes that protection. Also, the current pact allows for an unlimited number of AFTRA background performers on Los Angeles television productions, but the new pact reduces that number to a maximum of 19.

The con statement also challenges the 9 percent wage increase over the life of the three-year pact. It calls the increase "the lowest three-year minimum increases‌ever" and points out that a yearly 3 percent increase is lower than the rate of inflation and doesn't cover the cost of living.

Ballots from voting members must be received by no later than 5 pm PST on Mon., Feb. 28.

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