AFTRA, SAG act like foes

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Tensions are running high between leaders at SAG and AFTRA.

The latter fired off a letter to the guild Tuesday, demanding comment on reports that SAG will institute bloc voting by its negotiating reps (HR 7/30). Yet by Thursday, it remained unclear how the latest dispute between the lately warring labor groups might be resolved.

"We have not heard anything back either formally or informally," AFTRA president Roberta Reardon said.

On Saturday, the SAG national board voted to keep its so-called Phase One relationship with AFTRA in place, giving its smaller sister union 50-50 representation on negotiating committees like one to be formed for film and TV contract talks. The current SAG-AFTRA pact with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers is set to expire June 30, and negotiations on a new agreement are expected sometime after Jan. 1.

But the vote to affirm Phase One came with a controversial addendum suggesting SAG will seek to change how voting is conducted on the negotiating committee, sources said. Under bloc voting, SAG members on the committee first would vote among themselves, and positions favored by a majority of that group would be lodged as a unanimous vote by all SAG committee members.

In their letter, Reardon and AFTRA national executive director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth opposed bloc voting on grounds that it would "create a structure of two separate negotiating committees that Phase One was created to avoid."

The AFTRA leaders said they were responding to news accounts of SAG board actions and would make no assumptions pending a SAG response.

"The bloc voting described by the trade press is of course completely antithetical to the history and purpose of Phase One and as a practical matter could result in unwieldy deadlocks during negotiations," the AFTRA officials wrote.

Hedgpeth said it would be premature to speculate on how AFTRA might respond if SAG proceeds with its bloc voting plan.

"We have never even had to confront such a question, and I suppose the attorneys that everyone keeps in a closet would have to confront such a question," she said.

SAG spokeswoman Pamela Greenwalt confirmed that the guild had received the AFTRA letter, but she declined further comment.

Meanwhile, Roberts and Hedgpeth next week will present a charter proposal to the AFL-CIO executive committee, in line with AFTRA's decision to affiliate directly with the organization.

Previously, AFTRA has had an indirect relationship with the AFL-CIO via a now-terminated membership in Associated Actors and Artistes of America.

"We looked at how our industry has become such a merged industry (and) thought that the best thing we could do on behalf of our members was to affiliate with the AFL-CIO," Reardon said.

AFTRA recently announced a new "strategic alliance" with IATSE, which represents many of Hollywood's blue-collar and crafts workers (HR 7/26). Labor community observers see the AFL-CIO and IATSE initiatives as representing a more assertive posture for AFTRA amid its discord with SAG, which has been grousing over an array of jurisdictional and other issues.

SAG complains that AFTRA encroaches on its cable TV turf, offering contracts undercutting what SAG has won elsewhere. In a related philosophical split, AFTRA suggests it's better to show flexibility when negotiating first-time contracts, while SAG argues that a bad contract is worse than no contract.

Reps of both unions met recently to begin working through some of the disagreements, but results were unpromising. In a July 25 letter recounting the meeting, SAG president Alan Rosenberg and SAG national exec director Doug Allen noted that they were refused copies of some AFTRA signatory agreements with cable producers.

"We know that AFTRA has signed basic cable contracts with terms more generous to producers than SAG contracts," the SAG leaders wrote. "We believe the practice is widespread but said we did not want to overstate the problem and suggested the best way to prevent any incorrect assumptions was to exchange the contracts."

The SAG officials also complained that AFTRA allows members to work on nonunion shows, a practice that SAG rules prohibit. AFTRA contends that such flexibility plants seeds for future organizing efforts on such shows.

The letter did mention at least one area of agreement in the difficult SAG-AFTRA peace talks.

"We mutually agreed that new media was a watershed issue and that our next negotiations on the subject will have a big impact on actors for a generation to come," Rosenberg and Allen wrote. "(But) we did not advance this discussion very far, in large part because of our different perspective on basic cable."

New-media residuals figure prominently in current talks between the WGA and AMPTP. Management has suggested that the matter be studied for the present, but the guild is pressing for broader compensation.

Still elsewhere on the negotiating landscape, AFTRA continues negotiations on a new sound recording contract. A previous pact expired five weeks ago.
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