SAG bloc worse than bite?


AFTRA hasn't so much blinked as winked in its continuing showdown with SAG.

The performers union's board met Saturday to discuss items including what to do about a recent throwdown with the guild over SAG's decision to implement bloc voting on its next joint negotiating committee with AFTRA. Bloc voting would mean SAG committee members first voting separately and then casting unanimous votes on any negotiating issue that comes before the joint committee.

The matter is something of a hypothetical until film and TV negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Pictures & Television Producers begin sometime before the June 30 expiration of a current contract.

But AFTRA leaders say the decision to institute bloc voting effectively voids its so-called Phase One agreement with SAG. For decades under Phase One, SAG and AFTRA have negotiated jointly in hammering out contracts for film actors and performers in primetime TV dramas — the latter forming AFTRA's main area of concern.

"The time is long past for SAG to affirm the letter and spirit of Phase One and reverse its decision to institute bloc voting, a decision which effectively terminates the Phase One agreement," AFTRA president Roberta Reardon said Monday.

AFTRA had set a deadline of Oct. 14 for SAG to nix its move toward bloc voting, saying AFTRA otherwise would be forced to begin formulating an independent negotiating strategy. But with SAG's effectively rejecting that ultimatum in recent communications with AFTRA, Reardon and her board simply issued another call for SAG to reverse its course.

Why the hesitation? It could be the union is wagering that SAG's public posture on bloc voting will prove to be just that — posturing.

SAG has been on a recent campaign to discourage AFTRA from organizing areas — mostly in cable television — that SAG brass believes should be the sole province of SAG. To some, the move toward bloc voting is simply part of that organization turf war.

But actual implementation of the voting policy could prove difficult. Some in the guild question whether bloc voting would even pass constitutional muster at SAG, and others believe the war of words with AFTRA is misguided in any event.

So there could be something of a SAG civil war in the offing if Los Angeles-based national leaders of the guild stick to their guns. SAG's New York division, which includes thousands of SAG members holding dual memberships in AFTRA, appears solidly aligned against bloc voting.

"Phase One will be done away with over my dead body," said Paul Christie, former president of SAG New York and a member of the guild's national and New York boards. "The process is in a stranglehold, (but) bloc voting is a no-sale."

SAG's national board next meets this weekend in Los Angeles, and Christie predicted that the matter of bloc voting will be addressed at length.

In any event, SAG national executive director Doug Allen issued a statement Monday indicating a commitment to Phase One.

"I have communicated clearly to (AFTRA exec director) Kim Roberts Hedgpeth and the AFTRA leadership that Screen Actors Guild remains committed to joint bargaining under the Phase One agreement," Allen said. "Any assertion that Screen Actors Guild has violated Phase One is completely inaccurate."

Separately at the recent AFTRA board meeting, officials approved proposals for their upcoming "network code" talks with the AMPTP.

Those negotiations will determine contract terms for TV shows other than primetime dramatic programming, including daytime dramas; sports, variety and game shows; and variety programming. AFTRA hashes out that agreement solo, with its current network code contract set to expire Jan. 31.