AFTRA, SAG haggle over basic cable


SAG and AFTRA are at odds again, this time over basic cable.

On Friday, SAG's national executive director and chief negotiator Doug Allen sent a letter to his counterpart at AFTRA, Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, indicating the guild's desire to implement joint bargaining of basic cable as soon as the two actors unions hash out a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers on their primetime TV/theatrical contract.

Allen also opened the door to the possibility of the two actors unions deciding at the upcoming wages and working conditions committee meetings to include basic cable in the primetime contract rather than later. Allen's suggestion, however, didn't sit well with AFTRA, which issued a terse statement Sunday that accused SAG of making "an intentional effort to distract from the priority of the primetime negotiations" by raising "extraneous issues."

The latest rift comes less than a week after SAG and AFTRA agreed to negotiate with the AMPTP jointly rather than separately, and after the AMPTP offered to start formal talks April 1. AFTRA has indicated it would like to start negotiations then, but SAG has not committed to the date.

SAG and AFRA have separately negotiated deals with basic cable companies. But Allen noted in his letter that the long-standing agreement between the unions, known as Phase One, covers collective bargaining of basic cable. He also pointed out that at a recent meeting in San Diego with AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, AFTRA president Roberta Reardon acknowledged the basic cable collective bargaining agreement.

AFTRA has long held that applying basic cable to the Phase One agreement is legally complex and raises practical issues. In its response, AFTRA indicated it was open to discussions about basic cable after the primetime contract is settled.

AFTRA's letter also hinted, as it has in the past, that it would be ready to go forward with formal talks with the AMPTP alone.

Allen's letter Friday was in response to both a March 4 letter by Reardon and a follow-up request last week by Roberts Hedgpeth asking that SAG indicate in writing its intentions to go forward with the process without strings attached.

Allen states his letter is confirming that the two unions are negotiating the primetime contract together pursuant to Phase One.

He also noted that SAG rescinded adopting bloc voting on the primetime contract, which Allen said "put SAG and AFTRA in the same position each was in before the establishment of bloc voting."

But AFTRA didn't take the letter as a written response, complaining Sunday that it was ambiguous and failed to confirm in writing that SAG would not return to its plans to "alter or terminate Phase One in the midst of negotiations."

Neither letter, however, indicated any cancellation in the wages and working conditions meetings set for March 25-26, followed by a March 29 joint national board meeting to develop the proposal package to bring to the AMPTP.