Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Musicians Play a New (Media) Tune

In the “While you were out” department, the American Federation of Musicians and the studios signed a new deal . . . four months ago. But don’t feel like we’re late to the party — the deal doesn’t seem to have been reported in the Hollywood press. Talk about sotto voce. The negotiations themselves concluded in early November of last year, as I reported at the time, but it apparently took a while to reduce the deal to writing.

There are several items of note (so to speak) in the signed agreement, which runs through February 23, 2013:

* Wage increases are small by most Hollywood union standards: 1.5% or 2% per year. However, the increases in the AFM’s previous signed agreement also weren’t large by those standards, where 3.0%-3.5% have been the recent norm. Thus, it’s unclear if these numbers signify anything about the size of increases that the above the line unions will achieve in the upcoming (October 1 and beyond) cycle of bargaining.

* The Health Plan is being juggled around a bit. One thing that stands out apparently mirrors a provision in the IATSE health plan deal: up to 1% of the wage increases can be converted instead to an increased contribution to the health plan, if necessary for the plan’s financial reserves. That’s intriguing, because what usually happens in the above the line guilds and unions is that at most 0.5% of a wage increase goes instead to an increased P&H contribution. Depending on the needs of the above the line health plans (each union or guild has its own), we might see a 1% conversion in the upcoming negotiations.

* The New Media template adopted by the above the line unions and guilds and by IATSE has now been adopted by the Musicians as well. The AFM deal resembles the IA’s, in that there are somewhat fewer residuals than the above the line unions and guilds achieved. For instance, when a television show is streamed on ad-supported new media (such as the free version of Hulu), the above the line unions and guilds receive residuals but IATSE and AFM don’t.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Silly Lawsuit Against SAG Dismissed; and More

Remember the lawsuit that former SAG president Alan Rosenberg and three other Membership First members (1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord) filed against their own union?

No? You may have blissfully forgotten this misbegotten legal action, filed a year and a half ago (!), but the courts haven’t. This is the lawsuit that attempted to reinstate former SAG National Executive Director Doug Allen and undo ratification of the SAG-AMPTP collective bargaining agreement. In a case of chasing a horse that’s left the barn, and despite two court decisions that the action was moot, the lawsuit drags on.

Or maybe not. This morning, yet another judge declared the lawsuit moot. That’s five judges total, since one of the previous decisions was by a three judge panel. In a statement, SAG’s Deputy National Executive Director and General Counsel, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, said “Screen Actors Guild is gratified that this litigation has now concluded with a final reaffirmation of the Guild's position by the trial court.”

Let’s hope. Interestingly, in their opposition filing, the plaintiffs did not oppose dismissal of their complaint. But an observer pointed out that the plaintiffs have crafted their document, and their statements in the courtroom, so as to tee up a motion for attorneys fees. In other words, Rosenberg et al. will probably ask the court to order that SAG pay Rosenberg et al.'s attorneys fee for bringing a case that five judges declared moot and that at the end of the day Rosenberg's own attorneys were willing to dismiss!


In other guild and union news of late:

· In a surprising move, SAG’s Unite for Strength faction reached across the aisle and chose Membership First hardline David Joliffe as the chair of the Negotiating Committee for the AMPTP talks that begin October 1, reports SAGWatch.

· Those talks involve both SAG and AFTRA, negotiating together once again after a bitter hiatus in the last negotiating cycle. In order to make the schedule for joint negotiations work, AFTRA leadership has agreed to a one-year extension to its so-called “front of book” – the portion of its agreement with the AMPTP that covers daytime serials (soap operas) and various other work whose jurisdiction is not shared with SAG.

The extension, which runs through Nov. 15, 2011, is noteworthy for two reasons. First, the compensation increase, effective Jan. 1, 2011, is 2.5% (2% increase in minimums and 0.5% increase in pension and health contributions), significantly less than the 3.5% that was agreed to in the last negotiating cycle, which began before the economy had spiraled into recession. That 2.5% may well set a precedent for the October 1 negotiations.

Second, the extension does not change the new media provisions in any way. This suggests that any changes will be handled in the October 1 negotiations. Those issues will probably be hard fought.

The extension goes out for a vote in a few weeks to membership meetings in the five major AFTRA Locals of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington/Baltimore.

· Speaking of front of book, a new version is now available from AFTRA, incorporating the changes agreed to in 2008. Yes, these books take a while to revise, and, alas, the AFTRA book still uses the same almost unreadable tiny typeface as previous editions. None of the other guild/union books do, and the WGA has even moved away from the small format books to a large size that’s more manageable.

A noteworthy change in the AFTRA book: Ex. A (the portion that is jointly negotiated with SAG) is no longer included. Word is that there will be a separate Ex. A book eventually, but no information on when. That book, if and when it appears, will presumably incorporate the results of the Oct. 1 negotiations.

· It turns out even unions sometimes have unions. SAG does – in particular, a few dozen of its employees are represented by Teamsters Local 986. The contract between SAG and 986 expired June 1, and negotiations are ongoing. In a statement, SAG declined to provide any details on progress: “Screen Actors Guild and Teamsters Local 986 continue to negotiate for a successor agreement. Having agreed to bargain across the table and not in the media, SAG will have no further comment at this time.”

· The Writers Guild voted a few days ago to revise its credit rules. Variety has details on this relatively technical change. And speaking of WGA credits, why not have end credits for “Additional writing by,” so that all participating writers get credit? Decades ago, the WGA agreement provided for a credit of this sort, but it was eliminated in order to create the often-fictional idea that only a small number of writers contribute to a script. The result: caterers get credit and many writers don’t.

· In other WGA news, the WGA West announced 18 candidates running for 8 open board seats: Robin Schiff, David Shore, David A. Goodman (inc.), Cheryl Heuton, Aaron Mendelsohn (inc.), Katherine Fugate (inc.), Timothy J. Lea, Mick Betancourt, Mark Gunn (inc.), Erich Hoeber, Erica Montolfo, Matt Pyken, Naomi Foner, Karen Harris (inc.), Kathy Kiernan (inc.), Christopher Keyser, Steve Skrovan, Matthew Weiner. (inc. means incumbent, and the order of the list was determined by lot). There will be a candidates night Sept. 7 in LA. Voting is by mail or at the WGA annual meeting Sept. 16, with ballots counted the next day.

· This summer is also SAG election season. The president is not up, but 1/3 of the board is. Candidates are usually announced in late July, with voting closing in late September. No details as yet.

· The WGA East (which has a snazzy new logo) announced 23 new digital media signatories to new contracts, bringing the total number of WGAE digital signatories to 43. Twenty eight writers have become new Guild members as a result of the new contracts.

· Finally, an item from a couple months back: AFTRA and the AFM, which represent recording artists and musicians respectively, sent a letter to the Teamsters supporting efforts by composers and lyricists to unionize. The Teamsters are assisting the efforts of the music scribes, who are among the few non-unionized workers in the business (with computer effects workers being another large group). No word on any progress though.


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