SAG will vote on joint AFTRA bargaining

Vote could split traditional allies

After a board vote presaging the possible end to decades-long joint bargaining with AFTRA, SAG will let members vote on whether to alter the unions' so-called Phase One agreement, a move sure to stir cries of increasing SAG militancy.

SAG and AFTRA have contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers running through June 30, and SAG's Hollywood-based directors have been pushing for implementation of bloc voting on the unions' next joint negotiating committee. Such a move would guarantee unanimous SAG votes on any issue under review by SAG and AFTRA during the next round of contract talks.

New York-based SAG directors -- not to mention AFTRA leaders -- have objected to the bloc-voting proposal. But a move to abandon SAG's constitutional guarantee of joint negotiations would represent a much more dramatic severing of relations with AFTRA, seen as the more moderate of the two unions.

A key SAG objection to its current Phase One agreement with its sister union is its guarantee providing AFTRA with 50-50 representation on the unions' joint negotiating committee during contract talks with the AMPTP.

SAG said almost 60% of its national directors voted Saturday to conduct the Phase One referendum. Insiders noted that voting on the referendum proposal was markedly split between directors based in Hollywood and those based in New York.

Dates for balloting still must be set.

"A 'yes' vote will empower the national board of directors to negotiate a new, equitable joint bargaining agreement with AFTRA or, if that proves impossible, to allow SAG to independently negotiate the strongest possible collective bargaining agreement with the industry," SAG said. "A 'no' vote will maintain the Phase One joint bargaining agreement with AFTRA as it presently exists without modification of any kind."

SAG president Alan Rosenberg said the referendum aims to "to correct the shortcomings of the current Phase One agreement."

SAG and AFTRA leadership have quarreled in recent years over issues including cable TV organizing. Some in SAG believe AFTRA often organizes cable shows that should come under SAG jurisdiction, with such critics also claiming that AFTRA settles for lesser terms than SAG.

"In light of the ongoing issues between SAG and AFTRA surrounding joint bargaining of contracts with the AMPTP, it is both prudent and wise to allow the members to chart the course of our union," SAG national executive director Doug Allen said.

In a Sunday interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Allen acknowledged there would be some obvious downside to any complete break with AFTRA, noting solidarity among all Hollywood unions as the ideal collective bargaining situation. But he added that the referendum doesn't necessarily aim to halt a joint relationship with AFTRA.

"That's not the goal of this referendum," the SAG exec director said. "The goal of this referendum is to put us in a better position to negotiate a fair joint bargaining agreement."

SAG New York president Sam Freed said he strongly opposes changing the current Phase One agreement.

"If Phase One is terminated, then SAG and AFTRA will negotiate critical contracts separately," Freed said. "I don't see how that increases SAG's leverage at the bargaining table. I don't understand how the current SAG Hollywood leadership doesn't understand that. They seem to have no coherent plan."

The SAG board voted to recommend a "yes" vote on the Phase One referendum. But directors also approved circulating a minority report that will state the case for a "no" vote.

AFTRA issued a statement Sunday harshly criticizing SAG's move to place Phase One up for a referendum.

"SAG's repeated attempts to undermine AFTRA and create a schism between our unions are divisive, destructive and clearly not in the best interest of performers in either union," AFTRA said. "Given this critical time in the entertainment industry, our union members should be devoting their energies into preparing for negotiations and building solidarity, not working to destroy Phase One.

"AFTRA is committed to joint bargaining with SAG under the terms of the Phase One Agreement as written and practiced since 1981," the performers union added. "This latest action by SAG is merely a smoke screen for the internal battles between its national membership and a radical Hollywood faction. AFTRA will not be a scapegoat for SAG's internal politics, and we condemn actions by SAG to terminate a joint bargaining agreement that has been working to our members' mutual benefit for 27 years. AFTRA is prepared to push forward -- with or without SAG -- to win contracts that provide fair wages, good benefits and safe working conditions for all performers."

On Friday, AFTRA said the continuing WGA strike and the start of DGA talks have prompted it to postpone for a second time so-called network code negotiations.

Network code talks are held in New York with TV network reps and are unrelated to AFTRA's joint bargaining with SAG on AMPTP contracts for primetime dramatic performers. The network code pact covers performers and off-camera talent on syndicated dramas; daytime serials; game, talk, news, sports and variety shows; and other programming.

"While AFTRA is ready to begin negotiations now, given the unsettled state of other talks already in progress, we believe we can best serve AFTRA members' interests by briefly postponing our negotiations," AFTRA president Roberta Reardon said.

Terms of the current network code will be extended until March 7, with talks on a new pact to commence no later than Feb. 19, officials said. The pact had been set to expire Jan. 31, after an earlier strike-related extension from Nov. 15.