Org tells guild to stop dragging its feet

AFTRA is telling the Screen Actors Guild to stop dragging its feet — and warning that it’s willing to start negotiations as early as this month without SAG.

The move by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists is the latest indication of the town’s increasing frustration over SAG’s refusal to schedule formal negotiations with the AMPTP as soon as possible, given the recently completed 100-day Writers Guild strike and the looming June 30 expiration of the SAG-AFTRA film-primetime contract.

SAG president Alan Rosenberg and national exec director Doug Allen announced last week that they won’t start contract talks until April at the earliest.

The newest wrinkle in the ongoing battle between the performers unions emerged over the weekend following Friday’s conclusion of jointly hosted “wages and working conditions” member meetings in Los Angeles. The “W&W” confabs are designed to serve as the basis for hammering out proposals for the upcoming contract negotiations.

After the Friday meeting, the SAG-AFTRA reps on the W&W committee issued a statement that backed Rosenberg and Allen’s stance that they would “diligently and patiently” adhere to the wages and working conditions process. But on Saturday, AFTRA committee chief Matt Kimbrough repudiated the statement and said it had “no authority to represent AFTRA’s elected leadership or the opinion of the majority of its actor members.”

Kimbrough said he had allowed the resolution to be passed in an effort to complete the W&W process and added that he regretted not objecting to it at the time.

“The fact is that the overwhelming majority of AFTRA leadership believes that we have a responsibility to proceed with negotiations as soon as possible,” he said. “I share that belief. I apologize to my leadership if Friday’s resolution has caused anyone to question this position.”

Rosenberg said in response on Sunday, “It is perplexing that an AFTRA national officer would repudiate a statement of unity, support for the process of working together and confidence in the leadership of both unions.”

AFTRA had no further comment. But Kimbrough’s move signals that AFTRA’s still willing to go solo in talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over its primetime TV deal (Daily Variety, Feb. 4) — a move that would diminish SAG’s leverage at the bargaining table since it’s presumed that AFTRA would offer producers deals at more favorable terms.

SAG’s leaders agreed on Feb. 9 that they would be willing to negotiate jointly — but only if AFTRA promised it would not offer contracts at lesser terms. AFTRA has indicated that it’s not willing to agree to any conditions until after the negotiations are completed, contending that SAG violated the terms of the 27-year-old bargaining agreement by instituting block voting among negotiating committee members.

Even though SAG has backed off on the block voting rule, the unions have not been able to work out the details of how they’ll bargain together. Recent efforts to have the AFL-CIO mediate the long-running jurisdictional dispute went nowhere.

SAG’s beef with AFTRA stems from the latter’s refusal to reduce its 50-50 participation on the negotiating committees for film-TV and on commercials — despite accounting for less than 10% of the earnings. SAGhas complained that AFTRA has been offering producers cheaper contracts in basic cable, while AFTRA has accused SAG leaders of being radical and inflexible, asserting that its “one size fits all” approach to contracts results in fewer union jobs.

SAG has about 120,000 members, while AFTRA has 70,000; about 40,000 thesps are dual cardholders.

In another development on the labor front, the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees will hold early negotiations with the AMPTP on its West Coast contract starting April 7.

IATSE, which covers about 25,000 below-the-line employees in 18 locals in the contract, is about halfway through its current contract. That pact, finalized in early 2006, expires in August 2009.

The AMPTP and IATSE had no comment about the session, which is scheduled to last for three days.

IATSE — which was harshly critical of the WGA strike because of the impact on its members — is likely aiming to incorporate gains from the Directors Guild of America and WGA contracts plus last year’s West Coast Teamster deal, in addition to reaching a deal before a possible SAG strike.

IATSE has usually negotiated its contracts far before expiration, operating on the theory that it can obtain the best possible deal in exchange for labor stability.

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