AFTRA seeks cable deal

Campaign to focus on health and pension issues

Leaders of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists plan to launch a campaign to pressure cable networks and producers to sign union contracts.

The move comes after nearly a year of talks between the union — which estimates that there are currently 2,200 uncovered positions in cable programming — and representatives of networks and producers. AFTRA estimates several hundred members are covered by individual agreements with Nickelodeon, HBO, Showtime, E!, Oxygen, Cnet and producers.

‘More aggressive’

“We will be much more aggressive in a very public way with media monoliths about our position,” promised Paul Worthman, AFTRA’s national director of organizing and research. “Despite all the growth in cable, a lot of our members are not getting simple health coverage for their work. Like other Americans, our members face a health care crisis without coverage.”

The campaign will feature prominent AFTRA members, and stress the health and pension issues. It also will target the fast-growing sector of producers of Internet content.

Worthman said many cable performers receive no residuals or health and pension benefits along with significantly lower wages than AFTRA members working for broadcast networks. Group negotiators have contended that creating a master contract would reduce administrative headaches.

Focused approach

“Under the current situation, each entertainment brings a particular set of issues to each contract so it can be very confusing,” said Rebecca Rhine, AFTRA’s West Coast director. “Our goal in negotiations is to give producers an easy way to do the right thing. We think it’s a win-win situation for both sides to have a clear understanding of the terms and conditions of employment.”

Rhine noted that the intermittent talks have been productive, adding, “We are optimistic that an agreement is possible in the foreseeable future.”

Rhine and Worthman also emphasized that officials have been careful to limit the areas of negotiation to those traditionally covered by the union, such as performers on news, sports, talk-, game- and reality-based shows, so as not to encroach on the Screen Actors Guild’s jurisdiction.

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