Talks called 'constructive and productive'

AFTRA and the majors will meet for an eighth straight day of talks Monday in a move indicating the possible approach of a tentative agreement.

Offering a signal that a primetime deal may be within reach, AFTRA’s reported that negotiations have been productive enough for it to continue bargaining with the majors through the holiday weekend.

“Our talks with the employers have been both constructive and productive, and your committee remains committed to reaching a fair agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers,” said AFTRA president Roberta Reardon in a message sent to members Sunday. “To that end, I can report that we are prepared to bargain continuously, for as long as it takes, including working straight through the Memorial Day weekend.”

AFTRA and the majors were continuing negotiating on Sunday on the union’s primetime contract, following the first Saturday session at AMPTP headquarters in Encino. It was the seventh consecutive day of talks and the 15th since negotiations launched on May 7.

Reardon’s announcement came amid a news blackout and the AMPTP had no comment. She noted AFTRA members had recently ratified the union’s sound recordings pact, then added, “I am hopeful that we will soon reach a similarly groundbreaking agreement for primetime that will once again include significant gains for working performers.”

It was the second missive to members in a week, following last Monday’s declaration by Reardon that AFTRA opposed the companies’ clips proposal — which calls for allowing companies to license clips without performers’ consent. In the new message, Reardon again singled out the AMPTP’s clips proposal as being particularly problematic — but added that both sides are seeking possible solutions.

“As I’ve mentioned in previous updates, in addition to seeking improvements in compensation, coverage, and health and retirement benefits, we are also confronting a number of tough challenges involving new media,” she said. “Because many of the issues we face in this area are completely unprecedented-most notably, the knotty problem of clip consent-we are trying to think out of the box in order to reach pragmatic resolutions.”

AFTRA is negotiating its deal separately from SAG for the first time in three decades following a bitter jurisdictional fight. SAG, which is slated to resume its talks on Wednesday, has also strongly opposed the AMPTP’s proposal for re-use of TV and film clips online.

The majors have asserted that they may be able to start a viable business in clips if the unions will relent on the consent issue. The AMPTP has noted that the massive levels of online pirating have deprived perfomers and companies of significant potential revenues — and Reardon’s latest message emphasized that AFTRA’s cognizant of those concerns.

“AFTRA is focused on working with employers to find a creative solution that will protect our members’ images while at the same time encouraging the growth of the new market,” she said.

Both the SAG and AFTRA contracts expire June 30 and the town remains on yellow alert about a possible actors strike — particularly from SAG, which controls all feature work and most primetime work. SAG negotiatied with the AMPTP for 18 days, then objected when the majors recessed on May 6 to turn to the twice-delayed AFTRA talks.

SAG insisted it was near a deal but has since noted that major gaps remained on clips, DVDs, product integration and force majeure.

AFTRA split from joint negotiations with SAG in late March, then spurned SAG’s request on May 6 to step aside again. Reardon noted that AFTRA’s experience on this year’s network code talks as well as that of the DGA and WGA negotiations had made her union aware that it would be confronted with “very challenging issues.”

“This is why we felt it was so important for negotiations over actors’ contracts to begin sooner rather than later, and why we worked so hard to make that happen,” she added. “It’s also why we are taking a business-like approach to negotiations. We face a formidable adversary across the table. While we appreciate the challenges the companies face as a result of new technology and fragmenting audiences, our concern is performers’ well-being.”

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