AFL-CIO charter for AFTRA despite complaints of SAG

Guild will stay in umbrella group

AFTRA has been granted a direct charter with the AFL-CIO.

That's the simple part. But as is often the case with Hollywood labor stories, the backstory is far more complex.

SAG, whose president, Alan Rosenberg, holds a seat on the AFL-CIO executive council, had fought AFTRA's request to directly affiliate with the labor federation. SAG contended it would damage the so-called Four A's umbrella union, if AFTRA was allowed to join the AFL-CIO and leave SAG, Actor's Equity and others behind in the Associated Actors and Artistes of America.

In a compromise, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney authorized AFTRA's direct charter but also recommended that the Four A's be subsumed into the AFL-CIO.

Further, Rosenberg said Sunday that SAG has been assured that AFTRA's charter "will be in effect only so long as the affiliating union continues to be a member of the Four A's and remains bound by the obligations of such membership."

AFTRA spokesman John Hinrichs said Rosenberg's assertion was false, but acknowledged AFTRA remains a member of the Four A's and said that AFTRA leaders support the proposal to fold the Four A's into the AFL-CIO.

Details of the timing or mechanics for potentially absorbing the Four A's into the AFL-CIO were unavailable.

"By placing us on an equal footing with other AFL-CIO unions, our direct charter will make it easier for us to work with unions like the Communications Workers of America, IATSE and American Federation of Musicians, with whom we share employers and interests in the entertainment and media industries," AFTRA president Roberta Reardon said Sunday.

SAG insiders, speaking anonymously, suggested that keeping AFTRA within the Four A's would effectively mitigate SAG concerns over AFTRA's being granted an AFL-CIO charter. Notably, SAG and Actor's Equity also have been invited by Sweeney to file for direct charters with the AFL-CIO.

AFTRA's move to directly affiliate with the AFL-CIO arose from a series of recent confrontations with SAG. The charter will allow AFTRA to act more independently from SAG, with AFTRA's leaders secure in the knowledge they can appeal to the AFL-CIO for support in disputes with employers or sister unions.

SAG has regularly criticized AFTRA for what some in SAG claim are the sister union's tendency to invade SAG's jurisdictional turf and to offer contracts whose terms undercut SAG's ability to secure more lucrative terms.

SAG has gone so far as to put up for a membership referendum whether SAG and AFTRA should continue to negotiate jointly with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers for their film and TV contracts. The unions have done that for decades via their so-called Phase One agreement, which provides for a 50-50 representation by SAG and AFTRA on a joint negotiating committee.

In announcing AFTRA's AFL-CIO charter, Reardon also revealed that the AFTRA board has approved the union's holding separate negotiations for its next main dramatic TV contract if necessary.

"AFTRA has a responsibility to move forward and negotiate our agreement for primetime network TV dramatic programming," Reardon said. "We cannot abdicate our fiduciary obligations to AFTRA members by allowing another institution to dictate the terms of our longstanding contracts or control our negotiating timeline."

AFTRA also announced it has fixed a start date of Feb. 19 for its network code negotiations with network representatives in New York. AFTRA negotiators have always gone solo on those talks, involving performers' terms on reality, game, award, variety and newsmagazine programs.