SAG reaffirms 'Phase One' deal with AFTRA


SAG won't let its hard feelings toward AFTRA derail labor solidarity in upcoming contract talks.

That's the upshot of a daylong board meeting Saturday at SAG headquarters in Los Angeles -- though like most Hollywood labor matters, the matter is a bit more complicated than that.

SAG used a videoconference connection to New York to loop in East Coast directors, as the guild's national board hashed out what to do about what disgruntled members have dubbed "the AFTRA problem."

Many actors hold memberships in both unions, but some in SAG see AFTRA as a jurisdictional interloper, too often signing up TV productions they believe should be SAG shows. Another oft-repeated gripe alleges that AFTRA tends to settle for lesser contract terms than SAG.

The anti-AFTRA faction had become so vocal leading up to the SAG board meeting that speculation arose about whether the board might decide it was time to kill SAG's decades-old "Phase One" agreement with its sister performer union.

The Phase One agreement stipulates that SAG and AFTRA will split 50-50 seats on any film-and-TV negotiating committee, such as one slated to sit down with studio reps in the spring.

SAG's current main film and TV pact expires June 30. (The DGA's current film and TV pact also expires June 30, making the date an especially crucial one on the labor-management calendar.)

A knowledgeable source described the SAG board meeting as "contentious." But well-placed sources said the board eventually passed a resolution affirming that the Phase One agreement will remain in effect, at least through the upcoming film and TV negotiations.

"Something still could happen -- you know SAG -- but that's the situation right now," the source said.

Now here's the catch: The final, amended wording of the resolution stated a desire to tinker with how Phase One is implemented during negotiations.

Specifically, SAG may try to implement so-called bloc voting on the negotiating committee, sources said. Representation still would be apportioned 50-50, but SAG votes would automatically be counted as a unanimous bloc in favor of whatever position is carried by a majority of SAG reps on the committee.

"So if, say, eight SAG committee members want to vote for a position and two are against, through bloc-voting all 10 votes would count as being for the position," a labor community insider explained.

A SAG spokeswoman declined comment on the meeting, noting the board voted to keep its actions at the meeting confidential.

AFTRA national president Roberta Reardon released a statement Sunday applauding SAG's Phase One affirmation, while indicating that the precise wording of the resolution will bear further scrutiny.

"AFTRA is pleased to hear that SAG National Board has stated that it affirms all the principles of Phase One," Reardon said. "We look forward to learning in more detail whether the specifics of that affirmation are in fact consistent with the Phase One agreement. While we each have our separate but identical contracts with our employers, we believe it is imperative that AFTRA and SAG come together as one community of professional performers, whenever possible."

Phase One cooperation has meant "strong wages, benefits and working conditions for all professional performers -- no matter to what union they belonged," she said.

Reardon noted that AFTRA members recently affirmed support for joint negotiations at the union's national convention in Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, the WGA -- with whom SAG leaders recently have formed a warm relationship, even as relations with AFTRA have chilled -- already is engaged in negotiations for a new film and TV contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

SAG has formed an advisory committee to work with the WGA during those talks, which seek to replace a WGA pact set to expire Oct. 31.

There was scant evidence of any early negotiating traction in two bargaining sessions held before talks broke off temporarily. The AMPTP told the WGA it first has to wrap up contract talks with the Teamsters before meeting further on the writers pact (HR 7/23).

Negotiators from the AMPTP and WGA aren't expected to re-engage until sometime next week, at the soonest.