SAG and AFTRA’s longtime feud

How the bad blood between guilds evolved

The bad blood between SAG and AFTRA — culminating in the unprecedented SAG campaign against AFTRA’s primetime deal — didn’t develop overnight.

The feuds date back to the early days of the unions. In the late 1940s, SAG attempted to retain jurisdiction over TV that was filmed by the motion picture studios, leading AFTRA to bring a series of cases before the National Labor Relations Board. The dispute was resolved by leaving live presentation to AFTRA. That wasn’t the last dispute:

  • 1956: AFTRA went to the networks and obtained an agreement giving it jurisdiction over tape, angering SAG, which alleged that AFTRA had acted in secret and given up crucial protections. AFTRA said the two unions needed to merge, but SAG passed a resolution that it was officially opposed to merger.

  • 1980: The prospect of a merger’s raised again after an actors’ strike, with both unions agreeing to initiate Phase I, a plan to jointly negotiate contracts where they had common interests. The union never got to Phase II, under which they would hold joint board meetings, or the Phase III total merger.

  • 1999: AFTRA voters support a merger but SAG voters turn it down over concerns about loss of SAG’s identity.

  • 2000: SAG and AFTRA strike the ad industry for six months with disputes emerging over paying the costs of the strike and AFTRA having half of the seats on the bargaining committee.

  • 2002: SAG votes down a revamp of its agency franchise agreement while AFTRA agrees to a similar revamp.

  • 2003: SAG narrowly votes down a merger — dubbed “consolidation and affiliation” with AFTRA over concerns about SAG losing its identity and potential problems with combining the pension and health plans.

  • 2004: SAG and AFTRA agree to extend the feature contract a year, which delinks its expiration from that of the WGA pact.

  • March 2005: Robert Pisano leaves SAG as national exec director and is replaced by former AFTRA chief Greg Hessinger.

  • September 2005: Alan Rosenberg wins election as president over Morgan Fairchild, marking the shift of control of SAG’s board to Membership First. Hessinger’s fired a few weeks later.

  • October 2006: SAG hires former NFL Players Assn. exec Doug Allen to replace Hessinger.

  • April 2007: The AMPTP declares it needs to revamp residuals on a cost-recoupment basis. The WGA and SAG immediately reject the idea, setting the stage for singularly unproductive negotiations between the writers and the congloms.

  • August 2007: SAG tells AFTRA it will institute bloc voting on the negotiating committee for SAG reps. AFTRA warns SAG that it may be violating the terms of Phase I.

  • September 2007: Rosenberg’s re-elected over Seymour Cassel. SAG’s quarterly Actor magazine has a 12-page section detailing the lower terms of AFTRA’s contracts and accusing AFTRA of shilling for producers.

  • October 2007: SAG pledges full support to the WGA strike, and Rosenberg speaks passionately at several rallies. SAG’s the most prominent supporter of the WGA during the strike.

  • January 2008: SAG blasts the terms of the DGA deal, saying it’s not good enough.

  • February 2008: WGA strike ends after it agrees to the DGA deal. AFTRA warns SAG it will negotiate alone if it doesn’t agree to negotiate by the Phase I rules. SAG plans a referendum to get rid of Phase I but then drops the idea.

  • March 2008: The AFL-CIO mediates between SAG and AFTRA, and both agree to get along. But AFTRA alleges SAG’s meeting with an actress seeking decertification on “The Bold and the Beautiful” is a cloaked attempt to poach AFTRA’s jurisdiction and proclaims it won’t negotiate with SAG.

  • April 2008: SAG goes first with the AMPTP but can’t make a deal after three weeks.

  • May 2008: AFTRA makes a primetime deal after 17 days of talks with terms similar to the DGA and WGA pacts.

  • June 2008: SAG returns to the bargaining table and launches its campaign against the AFTRA deal. On June 30, the majors make SAG a final offer — matching the AFTRA deal — as the SAG contract expires.
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