No holiday for contract negotiations

AFTRA-AMPTP talks continued through weekend

There were no barbecues or trips to the beach this Memorial Day weekend for members of the contract negotiating teams for AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

The two sides spent the weekend continuing their formal talks over AFTRA's primetime TV contract, known as Exhibit A of the Network Code. The weekend bargaining, the first since talks began May 7, is an indication that both sides might be close to a tentative deal.

Although a news blackout remains, AFTRA president Roberta Reardon sent members a message Sunday about the negotiations, the second she has sent in the past week. She reiterated as in the previous update that besides increasing compensation and health and retirement benefits, the union is dealing with a number of "tough challenges" in the area of new media, particularly with the AMPTP's proposal to create a revenue-generating online TV and film clip library.

The majors are asking that actors give blanket consent for use of those excerpts. For decades, if clips were used outside the scope of promotional use by the studio, the actor had the right to approve such use. But the producers have proposed general consent by union members because requiring actors to approve each clip defeats the purpose of a quick and easy way for the public to download and use the clips.

"Such clips are already widely available on Web sites and video-sharing services as a result of Internet piracy," the AMPTP said in a May 20 message. "A legitimate market would generate payments for Guild members by, for example, giving consumers the ability to legally purchase clips that they might otherwise obtain from an unauthorized source."

SAG was first to reveal and speak out against the AMPTP's proposal after talks between the actors union and the majors were suspended May 6. SAG leaders have said that they're not opposed to the AMPTP's clip proposal but will not give up consent rights. The actors union is scheduled to return to the negotiating table Wednesday.

SAG and AFTRA share 44,000 members, and as AFTRA entered negotiations May 7, many dual cardholders feared the performers' union would give in to the AMPTP demand.

But Reardon assured members that the union's negotiating committee stands firm in protecting their rights while "trying to think out of the box in order to reach pragmatic resolutions" in the area of clip consent.

"While we appreciate the challenges the companies face as a result of new technology and fragmenting audiences, our concern is performers' well-being," she said in the message.

Reardon later added, "To this end, AFTRA is focused on working with employers to find a creative solution that will protect our members' images while at the same time encouraging the growth of the new market."

The union president also said that the bargaining committee is taking a "business-like approach" to the negotiations in facing a "formidable adversary across the table" in the AMPTP. She assured members that the committee is "smart and well-educated" and understands what is at stake.

"Our talks with the employers have been both constructive and productive, and your committee remains committed to reaching a fair agreement with the (AMPTP)," she wrote.

AFTRA is negotiating its primetime TV contract on its own after severing its 27-year joint bargaining agreement with SAG. The contract covers primetime dramas and sitcoms, including "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "'Til Death." Despite some bad blood between the performers unions, Reardon said that the negotiating committee was grateful to SAG's staff observing the negotiations, as well as other union observers.

Reardon said she intends to brief SAG on their talks before SAG resumes negotiations with the AMPTP.