AFTRA board OKs joint bargaining with SAG

Decision affects actors unions' TV-theatrical contracts

Harmony continues to creep back into the labor landscape.

On Saturday, the national board of directors of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists unanimously approved joint bargaining with the Screen Actors Guild on the guilds' TV-theatrical contracts under the terms of Phase One. While the prospect of merger was not addressed during AFTRA's videoconference plenary in L.A. and New York -- and remains a polarizing backburner issue -- this latest step re-establishes a measure of stability between the often conflict-ridden performers unions.

During the previous contested round of TV-theatrical negotiations with employers, AFTRA for the first time since Phase One was established in 1981 broke away from SAG in March 2008 and quickly settled its own contracts with the companies. SAG went on to engage in a protracted and nasty internal struggle that delayed a resolution of its own contracts for another 15 months.

A subcommittee of the AFTRA Strategy Cabinet had made the recommendation to formally re-engage in joint bargaining last month, just as SAG's national board overwhelmingly passed a resolution pushing its national executive director and president to once again seek joint bargaining with AFTRA. The Phase One arrangement, vehemently criticized by some facets of SAG's leadership, gives SAG and AFTRA equal weight on the negotiating committee.

"I applaud the National Board for taking this important step forward today following our productive discussions with our counterparts at Screen Actors Guild earlier this week, specifically with respect to AFTRA's heavy negotiating schedule for 2010," AFTRA national president Roberta Reardon said. "I look forward to continuing our work with SAG president Ken Howard and the leadership and members of our sister union as we move forward to bargain the strongest possible contracts for professional talent."

The Phase One terms include the AFTRA Primetime Television Contract (Exhibit A of the Network Television Code) and the SAG Television and Theatrical Agreement. Negotiations must be held under the existing AFL-CIO-facilitated No Raiding/Non-Disparagement Agreement between the two unions.

As part of SAG's previous deal, it must start seven weeks of contract negotiations with the AMPTP on Oct. 1. The two guilds' TV-theatrical contracts expire June 30, 2011.

AFTRA has about 70,000 members, SAG around 120,000, with about 44,000 overlapping members. The two unions have not yet scheduled any wages and working conditions meetings or negotiations.

AFTRA's national board is scheduled to meet in a face-to-face plenary session in New York in June.