AFTRA sets date with AMPTP

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RELATED: SAG, AMPTP to begin talks April 15

UPDATED 6:53 p.m. PT April 2, 2008

SAG will have less than two weeks to negotiate its film and TV contract before its sister performers union AFTRA sits down to negotiate its own pact.

AFTRA said Wednesday that it will start negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers on April 28. On Saturday, AFTRA said that it was severing its joint bargaining arrangement with SAG, which Tuesday said it will begin contract talks with the AMPTP on April 15.

Since the split, SAG and AFTRA reps have been talking with the AMPTP about a timeline to begin separate talks on their similar contracts, which are set to expire June 30. SAG had been working to get into collective bargaining before AFTRA for fear that if AFTRA started negotiations first it would agree to new terms that would be forced upon SAG.

SAG has a list of demands for its talks that include certain concessions the WGA failed to secure after its 100-day strike. Those include boosted DVD residuals and streaming residuals from the first day a TV show hits the Internet, sidestepping the 17-day "free window" the WGA was forced to accept in its recently secured AMPTP contract.

AFTRA president Roberta Reardon said the union "decided to let SAG go first" in the negotiations.

"In our view, our proposed schedule should allow SAG sufficient time to work out a good deal with the studios," Reardon said. "At the same time, we cannot abdicate our responsibility to our own members to engage with the employers in a strong, deliberate and timely manner so we can negotiate the best possible agreement for primetime performers."

For 27 years, SAG and AFTRA have jointly hashed out contract terms on primetime dramatic television. Despite AFTRA's opting out of that relationship, the unions still will be using essentially the same proposal package, developed jointly by members of each unions wages and working conditions committees last month. Reardon said Monday there will be some tweaking to the package, as AFTRA does not cover film.

AFTRA appears to have little to lose with SAG talking first, especially if the actor union cuts a deal. If SAG can't get quick traction in its talks, AFTRA has time to come in and negotiate its own terms.

"AFTRA has made the deal once (with the networks), they can make it a second time," said Alan Brunswick, a of Manatt Phelps & Phillips. "Obviously, there's some different issues but there's plenty of time to work out issues unique to the primetime agreement."

Brunswick said the staggered start dates for the AFTRA and SAG talks represents is highly unusual.

"I kind of like that idea, because then it puts the pressure on SAG to get the deal done and get it done as soon as it can," the labor attorney said.

SAG has held a series of informal meetings in recent weeks with Disney topper Robert Iger and New Corp. COO Peter Chernin to prepare as a prelude to formal talks. The approach is similar to a negotiating arrangement used to hammer out previous pacts with the DGA and the WGA.

Michelle Belaskie contributed to this report.
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