Actors' line: 'One strong voice'

SAG-AFTRA faction urges end to guild bickering

About 248 dual cardholders at SAG and AFTRA have signed a "statement of unity" seeking negotiating solidarity between oft-feuding performer unions.

The statement will figure in ads set to be placed in The Hollywood Reporter and other trade publications that AFTRA has agreed to fund. Those signing the letter include former SAG presidents Melissa Gilbert, Barry Gordon, Richard Masur and William Schallert.

"(We) appeal to our fellow actors to come together with one strong voice through both of our unions as negotiations approach," the dual cardholders urged.

It further asks members to "recognize and embrace the diversity of opinions that exist in our community of actors, keep Phase One in place as it has been since 1981 with one member/one vote (and) continue to work toward merger of our two unions."

Under the decades-old Phase One agreement, SAG and AFTRA negotiate jointly in their film and TV contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

However, Phase One has been thrown into some peril by SAG's recently avowed intent to institute so-called bloc voting on its next negotiating committee, set to be convened sometime before the expiration of the parties' current pact June 30. Through bloc voting, SAG members of the negotiating committee would caucus during contract talks on any negotiating issue and only then cast their votes — unanimously — in a vote of the committee as a whole.

In a letter dated Oct. 3, AFTRA national exec director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth recently notified SAG national executive director Doug Allen that bloc voting would violate provisions of the Phase One agreement.

"AFTRA is not prepared (to) engage in a Phase One negotiation where representatives of one union are selectively picking and choosing which of the terms of Phase One they will adhere to," Roberts wrote. "Therefore, AFTRA hereby requests that SAG advise not later than Oct. 15 … whether it will correct these breaches (or) AFTRA is regrettably left with no choice but to pursue these matters through other channels."

It wasn't immediately clear whether AFTRA would pursue legal or political remedies.

As for the dual cardholders' suggestion that the performer unions merge, the idea has gone down to defeat in two previous votes, and nobody has recently suggested any possibility of putting it up to a vote again anytime soon.

"AFTRA commends and applauds these courageous performers who are standing up for unity," AFTRA president Roberta Reardon said Tuesday in materials included in an AFTRA news release about the dual cardholders' unity statement. "AFTRA supports and encourages the nonpartisan efforts of working performers across the country to come together with one strong voice through both AFTRA and SAG to build strength at the bargaining table."

Separately, SAG president Alan Rosenberg also issued a statement on the matter.

"The Screen Actors Guild applauds unity and solidarity among union actors in support of the best possible compensation and working conditions," he said. "We remain committed to Phase One bargaining and hope to expand Phase One coverage to include all contracts covering actors."

Elsewhere, SAG and AFTRA continue to wrestle behind the scenes over the latter's decision to seek a direct charter with the AFL-CIO. SAG opposes the move and has been working to have the AFL-CIO reject the AFTRA application.