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SAG-AFTRA Approves Commercials Contract, Cuts Staff

SAG-AFTRA Approves Commercials Contract, Cuts Staff

SAG-AFTRA announced staff cuts and office closures Sunday at the end of a two-day national board meeting in Los Angeles that also saw the approval of the commercials contracts.

The 2013 television and radio commercials contracts will result in $238 million in wage increases and other payments for performers, a bump in cable use fees, increases in payments for work on the Internet and new media platforms, and an increase in the late payment fee, the union said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the board also approved a fiscal year 2014 budget that it said will cut some 60 staff from around the country and result in the closure of 10 of the union's 25 offices. The reductions will begin in early May.

Most of the offices on the chopping block are located in right-to-work states, a source close to the discussions told Backstage. And many of the offices are located in cities where there is a significant amount of union TV, film, and commercial work, including Houston, Portland, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New Orleans, and Denver.

The source told Backstage the actual number of staff being cut is closer to 70—a figure that is closer to what was circulated before this weekend's board meeting—and will cost the union up to $7 million in severance, which will be offset by eliminating those salaries. Half of the staff cuts will come from the union's headquarters in Los Angeles with 25 percent coming from New York and the rest from its satellite offices.

The budget vote split the board, 66 percent voting yes and 34 percent no—signaling that there remain deep divisions within the board more than a year after the merger.

According to the union's release, the plan corrects a roughly $6 million "structural deficit between revenue and expenses relating to pre-merger legacy costs of the prior organizations."

Critics of the restructuring plan believe it will now be easier for non-union projects to flourish in the states where offices are closing and there will be little organizing in these needed areas.

But David White, SAG-AFTRA's executive director, said that office closures will not mean reduced core services or scaled-back representation for performers. 

"We have to think differently about how we move forward in the world to support over 165,000 professionals who work in front of a camera or behind a microphone around the globe," he said in a statement.

Through the restructuring, the union said it will maintain a focus on eight major markets and seven broadcast/emerging markets that together represent over 93 percent of the union's membership. The eight major markets are Los Angeles, New York, Washington-Mid Atlantic, Chicago, San Francisco, New England, Philadelphia, and Miami. The seven broadcast/emerging markets are Dallas-Ft. Worth, Seattle, Atlanta, Nashville, Hawaii, Ohio-Pittsburgh, and Missouri Valley. The geographic restructuring process will take place over the next several months. 

"This is a difficult undertaking and we are obligated to be wise stewards of the members' resources while remaining laser-focused on our core union mission," stated Roberta Reardon, SAG-AFTRA co-president. "We are a national union committed to excellent service in vibrant markets across the country. That won't change."

Meanwhile, members will have the ability to vote on the contract's ratification online as well as via paper ballots.

"Online voting will make more efficient use of our financial resources, advance our efforts to be more environmentally conscious by reducing paper use, and offer members the choice of a voting process that's most convenient for them," Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union's chief administrative officer, said in a statement. "We expect this program to encourage member engagement and to enhance voter turnout in the referendum."

Members in good standing as of April 1 will automatically receive a postcard with voting instructions. The postcard will be mailed on or about May 1. The deadline to submit votes will be May 31, with results tabulated that day.

Details of the contracts are available online here and here.

The union also published a schedule for its first joint elections. Nominating petitions will be available May 15 with June 14 at 5 p.m. the deadline to submit them. June 17 is the cutoff for voting eligibility, with members needing to be in good standing for the November 2012–May 2013 due period. July 16 ballots will be mailed with an Aug. 15 deadline for their return. The first joint convention is set for Sept. 26–29.

During the two days of meetings, the board also discussed reciprocity of the SAG-Producers Pension & Health Plans and the AFTRA Health & Retirement Plans, but didn't make any announcements.

CORRECTION: A previou version of this story incorrectly the board budget vote as 66 members to 34 members. The budget was, according to a source, approved by 66 percent of the board, with 34 percent of the board opposed.

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