The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists may have failed by a whisker to merge last year, but they have managed to gain some collective bargaining clout with the studios.
As part of an agreement to extend their contract for another year, the two unions will be able to negotiate jointly on all prime time scripted broadcast network programming beginning next year. SAG President Melissa Gilbert says that will give them "unprecedented leverage that we have not had since the advent of television."
The one-year deal will also help avoid the anticipation of work stoppage that slowed the industry three years ago, when the prior contracts were being negotiated.
The previous three-year deal was set to expire June 30, but the new deal, expected to be approved by both unions, moves the date to June 30, 2005. Also as part of the agreement, actors get a 2.5% salary hike. In addition, members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers–the trade association that represents studios and production companies–will increase its contributions to actors' health plans by a half percent. It also adds union coverage to actors who appear in digitally-shot shows on The WB and UPN networks.
The unions will restart talks in the fall on a new three-year contract.
Meanwhile, the Writers Guild of America is scheduled to start talks of its own with AMPTP in the coming weeks. Those talks are expected to be more contentious than SAG’s and AFTRA’s because writers and studios are further apart on how to handle compensation for DVDs.