AFTRA pays strike bill tab

Board hopes to close chapter on positive note, Hessinger sez

In an olive branch to the Screen Actors Guild, leaders of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have agreed to pay $268,177 to SAG for the costs of last year’s strike against advertisers.

AFTRA’s top exec has told SAG that he hopes the payment — representing 10.8% of the total costs of $2.48 million — will ease the tensions between the orgs since the six-month strike ended last October.

“I would like to emphasize that the AFTRA board also expressed the sincere hope that we could close this final chapter of our recent joint negotiations on a positive note of mutual cooperation, which, after all, was the essence of our unions’ relationship throughout the commercials and TV/theatrical negotiations,” said AFTRA national exec director Greg Hessinger in a recent letter to SAG associate national exec director John McGuire. “That legacy is something to be built upon, not torn apart. I hope that the SAG board will feel similarly.”

SAG and AFTRA’s top execs calculated that 10.8% reps AFTRA’s share of revenues from ads as a “fair and equitable” resolution, according to the letter. The Sept. 7 missive said SAG’s finance committee had fully endorsed the plan and that AFTRA would remit the funds once SAG’s national board approved the agreement, which was scheduled on its agenda for this past Monday and Tuesday.

SAG’s national board was unable to complete its agenda due to the cancellation of Tuesday’s meeting after the East Coast terrorist attacks. Its next scheduled confab is Oct. 13.

The issue of AFTRA’s share of costs dates back to oral indications by AFTRA leaders during the six-month strike that their union would split the tab. Relations soured in January, when AFTRA’s board turned down a SAG request to cut the number of AFTRA reps on the joint film-TV negotiating team from 13 to four, to reflect the far smaller contribution of AFTRA performers under that contract.

Tensions also were strained by the cost-cutting recommendation in last year’s Towers Perrin report that SAG pull the plug on up to 20 regional branch offices, many of them SAG/AFTRA outlets in which AFTRA administers the SAG contract.

SAG board member Rick Barker called AFTRA’s leaders “disingenuous and duplicitous” for insisting on 50-50 representation on joint negotiating teams and then failing to pay half the strike costs. Barker, who reps Hollywood, also said execs have refused to provide board members with breakdowns of SAG and AFTRA contributions to costs of joint SAG-AFTRA offices.

“I have maintained (and continue to do so) that SAG pays the majority of costs for all of the joint ventures, whether they be negotiations or office costs, in all matters with AFTRA,” he added.

McGuire and Hessinger began to work on the issue of strike expenses in April after SAG board members expressed skepticism about AFTRA’s pledge to split costs on the film-TV “contract campaign” (Daily Variety, April 12). But that ultimately became a non-issue as the unions staged only cursory campaign efforts and made no strike preparations before signing a three-year deal in July.

SAG and AFTRA agreed two decades ago to jointly negotiate contracts in areas of joint jurisdiction. In 1999, AFTRA members endorsed a merger, but SAG members voted it down.

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