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Guild agrees to three-year contract

-Tribune Media Service

LOS ANGELES — Six months ago when Hollywood studios began stockpiling movies and television programs, it looked as if nothing could avert a crippling strike by writers and actors this summer.

But when news came Wednesday that the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists had reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract, the collective yawn was almost palpable.

A settlement seemed to become a foregone conclusion on May 4, when the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers shook hands on their own three-year deal.

In the next two months, negotiators for actors and producers maintained their optimism that a deal could be struck for them, too, causing the guilds to delay preparations for a possible strike, even after the old contract expired on July 1.

When the actors decided to follow the lead of the writers and forgo discussions about how to divide revenues derived from new-media outlets and the distribution of entertainment products to emerging markets, a deal was all but in the bag.

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Although details remained sketchy, it is believed that the tentative contract announced late Tuesday night calls for enhanced benefits and raises of 3 percent to 3.5 percent over three years.

This represents a total increase of some $100 million for the combined 130,000-person membership of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television & Radio Actors, compared with a $42 million hike for writers.

The package also reportedly requires Fox TV to bring its pay formulas in line with other networks; raises the minimums for “middle-class actors,” who comprise 70 percent of the work force yet bring home $30,000 to $70,000 a year; and bumps up residuals for repeats on basic cable.

A special $5,000 bonus for lower-paid performers in film roles, and a boost in pay for stunt coordinators and actors who make guest appearances on TV shows, also apparently were approved.

The Writers Guild of America deal, conceded by SAG chief negotiator Brian Walton, helped pave the way for the new actors’ agreement.

“It was definitely a help, there’s no question,” said Walton.

Working against the probability of a series of crippling strikes, including one by the Directors Guild of America next January, were several cold realities.

Last year’s six-month strike by commercial actors depleted the union’s war chest, and demonstrated the producers’ resolve when it came to holding the line on pay issues.

The nation’s economy had entered a slump, and there was no guarantee the entertainment industry wouldn’t be affected.

There was no enthusiasm among union members for a strike, especially over issues such as calculating pay formulas for new media and foreign sales, that bordered on the incomprehensible.

A strike would cripple the economy of Southern California, affecting everyone from behind-the-camera technicians to caterers and florists.

So-called “runaway” production to Canada and other producer-friendly havens was increasing, and a strike would only encourage more studio executives to take their business elsewhere.

The stockpiling of TV programs and movies over the last 12 months ensured that audiences weren’t likely to feel the pinch of a strike for several months.

The combined SAG/AFTRA membership still must approve the contract, and that process could take up to a month. In the meantime, actors and producers are free to move ahead with plans for future projects.


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