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DGA, WGA Pacts to Affect SAG-AFTRA

Want a vision of what the upcoming talks and vote on a final agreement will be like when SAG and AFTRA bargain with the AMPTP later this fall on a new three-year feature film and TV contract?

Then take a look at the deals recently negotiated by both the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA). They will show that the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists probably will come away with nothing as far as increased residuals for DVDs are concerned, but with raises to help secure the actors' health funds, as well as the usual or near-usual wage minimums.

SAG said in the fall issue of its Screen Actor magazine, sent out last week, that it was geared up to pursue increased residuals for DVDs. Among the other issues set as priorities by the SAG and AFTRA joint board in a resolution passed in February, the magazine listed "funding of pension and healthcare…and residuals, including DVDs, pay TV, made for basic cable."

DVDs have been a major issue in union talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers since the WGA stressed them as a top priority going into negotiations earlier this year. The AMPTP's refusal to increase DVD residuals was a major reason that the WGA walked away from the table in early June, denouncing the producers' final pact offer. The writers had been working without a contract since then.

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

That left the WGA with little hope of seeing any increases 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 monies, wage minimums, and TV residuals, but saw no raise in DVD residuals. The new pact will increase funding for the writers' health fund by $40 million over the next four years.

Struggles Ahead?

But not all the writers are pleased with the deal. While the WGA West's board recently voted 16-1 to send the new tentative pact to members for a vote, the WGA East's board voted only 10-6, which could mean that some leadership voices will be shouting "nay" to members as they decide how to cast their ballots.

The same pattern could occur as SAG, AFTRA, and the AMPTP move to the table later this year. Surely the producers, who wouldn't give in on DVDs to directors or writers, won't succumb to the actors on that issue. And a proposal for a lucrative increase in health-fund contributions is a mighty enticing carrot for SAG-AFTRA negotiators to bite into at a time when all unions are struggling with increased health-care costs.

But will that be good enough to satisfy the SAG national board of directors and the voting membership? They will, of course, be looking at other issues besides DVDs and benefits. For example, the fall negotiations will include the issue of increasing money for background actors, and the guild's large number of background performers will be closely studying that portion of the pact.

Meanwhile, the SAG national board will probably find it hard to agree on much. Melissa Gilbert, the guild's national president, has seen a heavy influx of her opponents arrive on the Hollywood board. The two rival groups haven't shaken hands on very much in the last couple of years, including the battles over a new franchise agreement with agents, a dues increase, and a proposed melding with AFTRA. So look for them to probably vie on issues within the feature film and TV pact. It could at least mean that voting actors will see a minority report opposing a new pact included with their ballots—if negotiators for the actors and producers are able to agree on a new contract in the first place.

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