Unions deny merger rumors

AFTRA and IATSE say they’re going to work closer together — but have no plans to merge.

The unions said Wednesday that they’ve created committees to explore opportunities for cooperation and a closer strategic alliance, such as unionizing non-union productions.

But AFTRA spokesman John Hinrichs denied that there was a merger in the works. “We think that members can benefit when both unions work together,” he added.

The American Federation of Television & Radio Artists has about 70,000 actors, broadcasters and musicians as members. The Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees has more than 100,000 below-the-line members.

The partnering comes three days after AFTRA’s national board announced it had voted to seek a direct affiliation with the AFL-CIO and end its longtime affiliation with the Associated Actors and Artistes of America, an umbrella org that belongs to the AFL-CIO and includes the Screen Actors Guild and Actors Equity.

Move comes in the wake of increased tensions between SAG and AFTRA. SAG’s been pressuring AFTRA for signing TV deals at less favorable terms in areas of joint coverage. SAG also wants AFTRA to reduce its participation on the negotiating committee in the upcoming film-TV contract negotiations.

AFTRA tried unsuccessfully in 1999 and 2004 to merge with SAG. In both cases, AFTRA members backed the deal but SAG members voted it down. “A closer relationship between the IA and AFTRA will work to ensure that all our members across all of our disciplines speak with one strong voice in the entertainment workplace,” said IATSE topper Thomas Short. “There are so many areas where we can work together. We are looking forward to exploring them with strategies that can bring us positive results.”

AFTRA president Roberta Reardon said IATSE and AFTRA had shown common interest recently in programs including “America’s Next Top Model” and “Set for Life” and with E! Entertainment Television.

“We believe that exploring a closer partnership with our sisters and brothers in the IATSE will provide new avenues to organize union work opportunities for both our memberships,” she added.

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