AFTRA votes to negotiate contract alone


UPDATED 8:09 p.m. PT March 29, 2008

In an abrupt move, AFTRA's national board of directors Saturday overwhelmingly voted to suspend its joint bargaining agreement with SAG and negotiate its primetime TV contract alone with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

SAG's national board was notified of the decision by AFTRA's president Roberta Reardon and national officers Susan Boyd Joyce, Denny Delk, Bob Edwards, Matt Kimbrough and Shelby Scott at what was to be an afternoon joint meeting of both unions' national boards.

In a statement, Reardon said over the last year, AFTRA has worked hard to "maintain the integrity" of the joint bargaining process, "so we could sit across the table from the industry with total and unequivocal unity." She added, "SAG Leadership has made this impossible."

She claims a recent attempt by SAG's Hollywood leaders to "de-certify an AFTRA daytime soap opera," is among the ways the union has "engaged in a relentless campaign of disinformation and disparagement." As a result, she added, it shakes AFTRA's confidence in SAG's "ability to live up to the principles of partnership and union solidarity."

Reardon said AFTRA would now devote its energies to negotiating a new contract for its members as soon as possible, and she added hope that someday both actors unions can rebuild "the historic trust between these two organizations.

SAG president Alan Rosenberg blasted the decision, saying it is "calculated, cynical and may serve the interests of their institution, but not its members."

Rosenberg said, "We remain focused on negotiating the best terms for actors covered by the TV theatrical contract. We spent weeks working with our fellow actors in AFTRA on joint proposals to improve the lives of all working actors."

Earlier this week, SAG and AFTRA members met jointly to put the finishing touches on a proposal package that was to be reviewed by members of both unions' national boards for approval on Saturday. Reports out of those back-to-back meetings indicated things went well between the two unions.

The relationship between the two unions has been anything but amicable over the last year.

For 27 years, SAG and AFTRA have negotiated jointly the primetime contract with the AMPTP, known as Phase One. But last July, SAG was pushing to change that partnership and institute bloc voting on the negotiating committee rather than the usual 50-50 split.

SAG backpedaled on that decision in February, deciding to work toward keeping the relationship with AFTRA intact. Despite that, things have continued to sour between the two unions and both have rarely been on the same page over what and when to negotiate with the studios.

The AMPTP's Nick Counter offered to start talks April 1. But while AFTRA has welcomed that date, SAG has not committed to starting negotiations that early.