SAG Members Ratify New Deal

The people have finally spoken. Or rather, shouted.

The membership of SAG officially ratified its proposed new two-year TV/theatrical contract Tuesday by a margin of 78 percent to 22 percent. SAG members had been working under the terms of the previous contract since June 30 as negotiations stopped and started during the past year.

SAG’s national board recommended the contract to the membership for ratification April 19 by a mere 53 percent to 47 percent. Ballots went out May 19 to the 110,000 or so members in good standing.

Of those eligible to vote, 35.3 percent turned in ballots, a slightly higher percentage than usual. The votes were compiled and counted after Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline. The new contract went into effect at 12:01 a.m. today and expires June 30, 2011.

“This decisive vote gets our members back to work with immediate pay raises and puts SAG in a strong position for the future,” interim national executive director David White said. “Preparation for the next round of negotiations begins now. Our members can expect more positive changes in the coming months as we organize new work opportunities, repair and reinvigorate our relationships with our sister unions and industry partners and continue to improve the guild’s operations.”

Among the terms of the new deal are a 3 percent wage increase and a 0.5 percent pension and health plan contribution increase. In its second year, the contract triggers a 3.5 percent wage increase.

Jurisdiction and compensation for new-media work, which sparked much of the internal and external debate, were established for the first time, as they were in the DGA, AFTRA and WGA contracts negotiated last year.

The guild will benefit from $105 million in increases and contributions in the new pact, though it meant passing up close to another $100 million in raises while the contract remained unresolved.

The vote count in the Hollywood Division was 70.7 percent to 29.3 percent in favor. In the New York Division, it was 85.7 percent to 14.3 percent in favor. And in the Regional Branch Division, the count was 89.1 percent to 10.9 percent in favor.

“The ratification vote by SAG members is good news for the entertainment industry,” the AMPTP said. “This concludes a two-year negotiating process that has resulted in agreements with all major Hollywood guilds and unions. We look forward to working with SAG members, and with everyone else in our industry, to emerge from today’s significant economic challenges with a strong and growing business.”

Well-wishers from the DGA and AFTRA followed suit.

With SAG’s contract debate decided, much of the industry—and film production in particular—can breathe a sigh of relief as the threat of an actors strike has been put to rest. The past 18-22 months—since the lead-up to the WGA strike in fall 2007—have seen a substantial contraction in opportunities for above- and below-the-line talent in Hollywood.

The 100-day writers’ walkout early in 2008, followed by the uncertainly generated by the SAG standoff, prompted studios and networks to shave production deals, trim slates, squeeze fees, experiment with the Web and shrink development in TV and film. The upshot has been a tougher environment for actors and other performers to get work.

In addition, while factions within SAG argued over its approach to the contract fight, the guild saw nearly all the current season’s network pilots move to AFTRA coverage.

That internal SAG battle, raging for most of the past year, now immediately shifts its focus to fall elections, the results of which will be announced Sept. 24.

MembershipFirst, which has adamantly opposed the just-passed contract as well as a merger with sister union AFTRA, plans a fundraiser as early as tonight, hosted by William Petersen and Melissa Leo, to jump-start momentum on its campaign. The party also has hired a political consultant to help manage its message.