Going First At Bargaining Table Means A Lot, But No Word Yet If It Will Be DGA, WGA or SAG-AFTRA


Which guild will go first at the bargaining table – the DGA, the WGA or SAG-AFTRA – remains undetermined for the upcoming cycle of film and TV contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. If history is any judge, who goes first could foreshadow whether there will be a strike – or more than one strike – this year.

In the end, it will be up to each guild, working in consultation with the AMPTP, to decide when, and in what order, they start bargaining.

The DGA has gone first in each of the past three three-year bargaining cycles, even though its contracts expire at the same time as SAG-AFTRA’s – on June 30 – and two months after the WGA’s contract on May 1. The DGA often begins its negotiations many months in advance of the expiration of its contracts.  

“When it comes to making the decision about when to start negotiations,” the DGA said recently, “we are guided by one simple principle: We will only begin bargaining when we believe we have the most leverage to win the best possible deal for DGA Directors and their teams.”

The last time the DGA didn’t go first was in 2010, when pre-merger SAG and AFTRA came to the bargaining table first. The last time the WGA went first, back in 2007, a 100-day writers strike ensued.

RELATED: DGA Says Upcoming Film & TV Contract Talks Promise To Be “One Of Most Difficult” In Years

Who goes first is important because whoever it is tends to set the pattern of bargaining for the others to follow, though each guild has its own unique needs that pattern bargaining can’t address. But issues such as annual pay raises and residual rates tend to be set by the first one at the bargaining table and generally are passed along to the next two guilds when it’s their turn, as the companies are loath to give much better terms to one guild over the others.

The 2020 cycle was kicked off by the DGA three years ago when, on February 4, the DGA and the AMPTP announced that they had agreed to enter into formal contract negotiations on February 10. Negotiations concluded with a deal on March 4, just before the Covid pandemic took hold. The DGA’s board approved the deal – just as the boards of all the guilds do after their deals are reached – and the contract then was ratified by an “overwhelming margin” of its members on April 3. The DGA, unlike the other guilds, doesn’t disclose how many members voted, or the margin of approval.



The WGA went next in 2020, and on March 6 announced it would begin bargaining with the AMPTP on March 23. By that time, however, the Covid pandemic had shut down the industry, making it all but impossible for the guild to strike when so few were working anyway. A deal was reached on July 1, and the contract was ratified on July 29 by 98% of the voting members. Only 87 members voted against it, compared with 4,068 who approved it.

SAG-AFTRA was up next that year, and on April 24, in a joint statement with the AMPTP, said that they would start negotiations on April 27. Due to the pandemic and state government stay-at-home orders, they said, the talks were to be conducted via video teleconference. A tentative agreement was reached on June 11, and it was ratified by a vote of 74.2% to 25.8%, with a turnout of 27.2%.

The 2016-17 cycle got off to an early start for the DGA, which began talks with the AMPTP on December 5, 2016, and concluded with an agreement two days before Christmas. The contract again was ratified by an “overwhelming margin” on January 25, 2017.

The WGA began bargaining for its contract that cycle on March 13, 2017, and the talks came down to the wire, with a tentative agreement reached in the early morning hours of May 2 – shortly after the contract had been set to expire, averting a threatened strike. The deal was ratified by the members on May 24, and this time the approval margin was even more lopsided, with 99.2% of voting members approving it. Only 30 members cast “no” votes.

SAG-AFTRA, which was again third up that year, began preliminary talks to lay the groundwork for the negotiations on May 17, 2017. Formal negotiations began on May 31, and a deal was reached on July 4, and was ratified by a vote of 75.8% to 24.2% of those who cast ballots. Roughly 140,000 members were mailed ballots; 15.3% voted.

The DGA again was first at the bargaining table for the 2013-14 cycle, which this time started even earlier. On October 23, 2013, the guild and the AMPTP announced that it had agreed to enter into formal contract negotiations on November 4, 2013. A deal was reached on November 22 after just 18 days of bargaining, and it was ratified on January 8, 2014 – again by an “overwhelming margin.”

The WGA announced on January 28, 2014, that it would begin negotiations with the AMPTP on Feb. 3. A tentative agreement was reached on April 1 – a month before the expiration of the old contract – and it was ratified on April 30 by 98.5% of the members, with only about 15% of the eligible members voting.



SAG-AFTRA started its talks that year on May 5, and reached a deal on July 4. The contract was ratified August 22 by a vote of 92.1% to 7.9%. As Deadline noted before the start of those talks, “The DGA and the WGA both negotiated new contracts earlier this year, and those deals – both of which were overwhelmingly approved by their members – will set the framework for the new SAG-AFTRA deal.”

SAG and AFTRA, before their merger, led off the 2010-11 bargaining cycle with the AMPTP on September 27, 2010, well ahead of the June 30, 2011, expiration of their contracts. A deal was reached on November 7 and was ratified on January 11, with 93.5% of their voting members approving.

The DGA was up next. On November 11, 2010, the DGA and the AMPTP announced that they had agreed to enter into formal contract negotiations on Nov. 16. A tentative agreement was reached on Dec. 7, and the contract was “overwhelmingly” ratified by its members on Jan. 18, 2011.

The WGA finished the cycle with negotiations that began on March 3, 2011. A deal was reached on March 20, and the pact was ratified on April 27, with 90.7% of voting members approving.

RELATED: Historically, The WGA Is Overdue For A Strike, With Residuals Again A Key Issue Of Upcoming Talks

In 2007, the WGA was up first, starting its talks with the AMPTP on July 16, though its contract wasn’t set to expire that year until October 31. After months of bargaining, an impasse was reached, and a strike began on November 5. It ended 100 days later on February 12, 2008, when more than 92% of the WGA’s members voted to accept a deal that four days earlier had been approved unanimously by the WGA West board of directors and the WGA East Council.

The DGA’s negotiations with the AMPTP started towards the end of the WGA strike – on January 12, 2008 – and ended with a tentative agreement on January 17, which set the template for the deal that would be reached three weeks later by the WGA.

Three days before the WGA strike ended, SAG and AFTRA, which had been feuding, announced that they would negotiate a contract jointly with the AMPTP. Those talks began in April, but SAG and AFTRA had a major falling out and went their separate ways. AFTRA subsequently made a separate deal with the AMPTP for a new television contact that was ratified by its members on July 8. But SAG held out at the bargaining table before reaching a film and TV deal that wasn’t ratified by its members until June 9, 2009. SAG and AFTRA merged in 2012.

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