AFTRA causing SAG labor pains

Potential move to AFL-CIO could darken gray areas

It likely will be more than a month before AFTRA knows whether AFL-CIO leaders will smile upon its request for a direct link to the labor mothership.

Seeking a more assertive public profile, AFTRA brass recently pitched the move to top officials of the AFL-CIO, whose executive council is expected to rule on the matter at a Sept. 21 meeting. If successful, AFTRA would formally end its membership in the Associated Actors and Artistes of America, a move approved last month at the union's annual membership meeting in Philadelphia (HR 7/23).

Members voted to seek a direct national charter with the AFL-CIO, replacing an indirect affiliation AFTRA has through the AAAA.

"We're in ongoing conversations with the AFL-CIO about our application," AFTRA spokesman John Hinrichs said. "They are working through their process and hope to report it back to their executive council as soon as possible."

SAG president Alan Rosenberg said Tuesday that he's concerned about AFTRA's move to quit the so-called Four A's and affiliate directly with the AFL-CIO.

"We're still trying to figure out what that means to us and to the Four A's," Rosenberg said. "We haven't had the opportunity to fully vet this (and) until we do that we couldn't fully support such a move."

Although Rosenberg declined to elaborate, it's known that SAG officials are concerned that AFTRA's leaving the Four A's would inject even more uncertainty into jurisdictional gray areas that already cause regular friction between SAG and AFTRA.

Officials at AFTRA believe its Four A's charter allows the union to organize any cable TV shows shot digitally, but SAG believes that's an overly broad interpretation of language written before the advent of digital production. Should AFTRA leave the Four A's, disputes over cable organizing and other jurisdictional matters can only spread, SAG officials fear.

SAG national executive director Doug Allen and other top staff flew with Rosenberg last week to Chicago, where the SAG president attended a two-day meeting of the AFL-CIO exec council, on which he sits as a representative of the Four A's. SAG execs also met separately with AFL-CIO president John Sweeney to discuss matters including the SAG-AFTRA jurisdictional squabbles, and Sweeney volunteered to help mediate such matters, SAG sources said.

Hinrichs said AFTRA officials welcome Sweeney's serving as an informal mediator in any matters involving both AFTRA and SAG and have previously floated such a proposal to the AFL-CIO boss.

It wasn't immediately clear whether SAG's complaining to Sweeney over the situation might hurt AFTRA's application for an AFL-CIO charter. Rosenberg is only one vote on the 54-member council, but Sweeney's support or opposition could prove critical to AFTRA's application.