AFTRA rebuffs SAG leader's call for debate


The presidential candidates aren't the only ones looking for a debate.

On Monday, SAG president Alan Rosenberg, citing the spread of misinformation, proposed that SAG and AFTRA hold an official debate on the issues involving AFTRA's newly brokered primetime/TV contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

AFTRA declined the invite, calling it "disingenuous" and urging SAG to concentrate on its own negotiations.

AFTRA and SAG have been locking horns over the latter's tentative agreement with the AMPTP, which was reached May 28.

Prior to negotiations with the studios, AFTRA suspended its joint bargaining agreement with SAG to negotiate its own primetime/TV contract. Since then, it's been a war of words between the two performers' unions, which kicked up a notch after AFTRA brokered its deal with the AMPTP.

AFTRA's national board has voted to send the new contract to members for ratification and expects the results by July 7.

SAG and AFTRA share 44,000 members, and SAG has been urging those members to vote down the AFTRA contract. SAG's national executive committee voted 13-10 to launch a campaign — which is estimated to cost $75,000-$150,000 — against the AFTRA contract. SAG has held a rally and sent member letters urging a vote no on the deal.

AFTRA in the meantime has started up its own campaign. On Monday, it sent members a detailed e-mail about their deal.

For example, SAG claims that AFTRA achieved no significant gains for middle-class actors and can get better.

But AFTRA counters that it closed a deal that included a 10% increase in pay for all categories, a 13% increase in major role minimums and restored health and retirement coverage for warmup performers that it says was lost when it synchronized its prime time contract with SAG's TV agreement in 2005.

Rosenberg proposed the debate in a letter hand-delivered to AFTRA's Los Angeles office and addressed to the union's president Roberta Reardon. He said the point of the debate would be to clear up conflicting information SAG and AFTRA members are receiving about the tentative agreement and its impact on SAG's current negotiations with the AMPTP.

"I am specifically requesting that we schedule a joint membership meeting over the next week for members in Los Angeles, at which we discuss and debate the facts," Rosenberg wrote. "I hope you agree that it would be productive for members to hear directly from both of their unions."

Rosenberg said the meeting would be a two-hour "full and frank discussion" of the agreement with members present. Along with him and Reardon, it would include AFTRA's Matt Kimbrough and SAG's David Jolliffe, who served as co-chairs of the wages and working conditions committee that prior to negotiations worked on the proposals for the current talks.

For a moderator, Rosenberg suggested it could be a member of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor or the Department of Professional Employees.

Despite these offers, Reardon responded, "AFTRA does not believe there is anything about this process that is distracting either SAG or the industry from good-faith negotiations, nor do we believe that it has any impact on the ongoing talks.

"Further, we feel your request is somewhat disingenuous as a public debate would have no real practical purpose," she added. "All it would do is contribute to the destructive and divisive efforts of the last year instigated by the guild's Hollywood leadership." (partialdiff)