In case you hadn't heard, our Mother International and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers return to the negotiating table on Monday next. For those just tuning in, this isn't the maiden voyage for these particular set of contract talks:
The AMPTP and IATSE held the last round of talks in April -- more than a year before the conclusion of the current deal, which expires in August 2009 and covers about 25,000 West Coast workers in 18 locals. Both sides said at the the time that those talks covered new media, minimums and the pension and health plans.
The IA hosted an informational meeting for local union reps last week. Nobody needed to know what proposals were on the table, because everyone found that out last April when the negotiations started. (Here's a five-word hint if you might be wondering: wages, benefits, new media.)
What we were (mostly) there for was an update on how the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan was faring.
The Good News: The Plan is doing better than most. Its investment assets are conservatively invested, and the billions now residing in stocks, bonds, real estate and a few other things haven't taken the hit that the broad U.S. and foreign stock markets have.
The Bad News: Plan investments have taken a hit. They're down roughly 12-15% from the beginning of the year.
The Other News: The Motion Picture Industry Health Plan is experiencing an increase in costs of around 9% per year. Going forward, this will probably mean some changes are going to happen over the next contract cycle. (This has been the standard mantra for as long as I've been doing this. Costs hardly ever go down.)
One of the questions asked during the meeting: Is the big corporate downturn of the last two months going to impact the talks?" One of the older and wiser heads noted:
"Sure, they'll use the recession and downturn as a reason not to give us anything, as a reason for rollbacks. But look, the producers always have a reason they want rollbacks. If it isn't a recession, it's something else, like the business model is changing, or they're overstretched, or that we've got get along with less for the good of the industry.
"It's always some reason or another. The song and dance never changes, so don't expect it to be any different this time."
And of course the SAG talks are still hanging out there like a sagging branch on a diseased elm, and that won't likely be changing anytime soon.
The IATSE-AMPTP talks will occupy a good chunk of next week, and I'll be in attendance. But don't expect any details unveiled here until there's a deal in p;lace and all the mouth gags are removed.