AFTRA sends deal to members

SAG steps up the fight

AFTRA's national committee on Friday "overwhelmingly" voted in favor of the tentative primetime/TV agreement reached with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers last month. The contract now goes to its 70,000 members for ratification.

Earlier in the day, SAG leaders voted to try to torpedo that ratification vote, with its national executive board agreeing by a narrow margin to spend an initial $75,000 on a campaign to encourage dual card members to vote down the tentative AFTRA deal.

The SAG vote was taken during an in-person and video conference meeting with SAG's national executive board. One source put the vote at 13 in favor, 10 opposed.

SAG and AFTRA share 44,000 members, and SAG is looking to those members to vote against the AFTRA contract. Results are expected to be announced on or about July 7.

SAG's vote comes after president Alan Rosenberg and national executive director Doug Allen sent AFTRA a letter Thursday asking it to delay the member ratification vote. AFTRA refused.

"It has become clear over recent days of bargaining that the prospect of an immediate ratification vote on the proposed AFTRA Exhibit A contract is distracting the industry from seriously engaging on SAG's proposals and has the unfortunate prospect of interfering with SAG's ability to exercise its leverage for the benefit of all actors, members of either or both of our unions," the letter stated.

In response, AFTRA president Roberta Reardon and national executive director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth told SAG "in our view, delaying this process would not be in the best interest of our members. Nor do we believe there is anything about AFTRA's ratification process that would 'distract' either SAG or the industry from good faith negotiations or in any way be 'interfering' with the guild's negotiations with the AMPTP."

Sources say AFTRA board members were furious over SAG's letter, calling it "blackmail." They are also angry about their sister actor union's push to get members to vote down the AFTRA contract.

Sources close to SAG said the vote over the fight against AFTRA was divided between the West Coast members who are part of the "Membership First" faction, which received the majority, and East Coast members.

Said one member who attended the meeting: "Basically, it was all the Membership First people rabidly embracing this idea and the others opposing it, as predicted."

Asked about the campaign to sway AFTRA voters, Allen said: "We will be communicating the results of (our) analysis to our membership and will be educating SAG members about the impact of the AFTRA deal on our negotiations and on our effort to secure the best possible contract for actors."

SAG plans to hold a "solidarity rally" on Monday morning at its Wilshire Boulevard headquarters in Los Angeles. Susan Savage, a SAG board member and member of Membership First, has described it as an anti-AFTRA contract rally.

In an e-mail on Thursday, Savage encouraged members to vote down the AFTRA contract and also inferred that Tom Hanks and George Clooney had phoned Rosenberg to tell them that they supported SAG's position.

Hanks and Clooney denied the claim. A SAG spokesperson said Savage has since apologized for not being clear in her message, noting that Savage meant to say that Hanks and Clooney are in support of SAG's overall negotiations, not the anti-AFTRA contract initiative.

For 27 years, SAG and AFTRA had jointly negotiated the primetime/TV portion of their performers contract. But AFTRA voted to suspend the agreement and bargain on its own after more than a year of locking horns with SAG leaders over various issues.

AFTRA reached its tentative deal on May 28. SAG is in negotiations with the AMPTP; its deal expires June 30.

AFTRA's agreement includes a bump in actor rates over three years, jurisdiction over new media and retaining, for now, consent over the use of clips in new media for nonpromotional use.

In an open letter Friday to members, AFTRA negotiating committee member David Basche wrote the union "won a great contract," including a 10% increase in minimums over the contract term that was "far greater than the AMPTP wanted to agree to and were achieved only because we did not back down and stayed focused, calm and strong on the members' behalf."

"I think it's damn good, more than expected," he wrote, "and some of these increases are the first in almost a decade: Hard won and well deserved."