AFTRA, producers head back to table

SAG members will meet for update Monday night

After a second weekend break, AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers head back to the bargaining table Monday to continue formal talks on a new primetime TV contract that expires June 30.

Talks between AFTRA and the AMPTP began May 7 following the suspension of negotiations with sister guild SAG. The two performers unions are negotiating the primetime TV contract separately for the first time in 27 years after a fallout on the eve of formal talks.

Not much has been released about the negotiations between AFTRA and the producers because of a news blackout. However, in an e-mail message to members last week, AFTRA president Roberta Reardon indicated that the two sides were making progress.

In the meantime, Los Angeles SAG members will meet Monday night to discuss the guild's recent contract talks and the state of the negotiation process. Talks between SAG and the AMPTP began April 15 and broke down May 6 with no new deal. The AMPTP has offered to meet with SAG on May 28, indicating that it expects to finish negotiations with AFTRA in the next week and a half.

In a video message to members posted last week on the union's Web site, SAG national executive director and chief negotiator Doug Allen said that the AMPTP suspended the negotiations "in spite of the progress we were making and moves we made in their direction."

Among the issues Allen said the two sides "spent quite a bit of time" discussing was product placement and integration in film and TV productions and "dealing with the circumstances that actors find themselves in when they're making scripted content but they're handed a product to extol or endorse.

"We've proposed language that says they should have the right to refuse to do that if they're not comfortable essentially making a commercial in the middle of scripted content," he added.

Allen said the union understands product placement is necessary to finance the production, but the actor should have the right to refuse to participate if they have an outside contract that might conflict with the product placement or simply do not want to do it.

He did not, however, indicate whether the two sides came to any sort of agreement on the issue.

Allen also indicated that there were "some boulders in the road," including the AMPTP's proposals to create an online clip library in which they want actors to give blanket consent for the use of legally downloaded content. While studios are allowed to use the clips for promotion, any further use requires approval from the actor, pursuant to the union's contract.

Allen said the AMPTP wants to get rid of that requirement and replace it with a completely unfettered agreement.

"We think that's a problem," he said.

As for the May 28 date offered by the AMPTP, SAG has accepted, but Allen said it's "wasting time" to have a date so far ahead and they should be talking tomorrow."

"We're prepared to go back to the table and get this deal done as soon as possible," he said, adding, "We need their cooperation. We can't do this by ourselves."

SAG's contract also expires June 30.