Move underlines division between two unions

In a move underlining the deep divisions between the two performers unions, AFTRA’s not letting the Screen Actors Guild get back into the negotiating room with the majors — at least for a few weeks.

The American Federation of Television & Radio Artists spurned a SAG bid Wednesday to postpone its primetime negotiations with the majors so the guild could continue its talks, which ended as scheduled late Tuesday over SAG’s objections.

“I think it’s insanity that we’re not able to finish our negotiations and that the unions are being pitted against each other,” SAG national exec director Doug Allen told Daily Variety. “We ought to be able to figure out a way to do this together, particularly since we’ve done so much of the heavy lifting. It’s in the best interests of the memberships.”

SAG, whose talks had been extended twice, insisted it was within a few hours of reaching a deal although the congloms insist that wasn’t the case.

AFTRA also nixed a request Wednesday from SAG that they collaborate on the primetime talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Allen warned the majors at the end of Tuesday’s talks that it would become more difficult to make a deal with SAG if the guild were pushed aside in favor of AFTRA. “We’ll lose the momentum we have at negotiations, and members’ positions will become more entrenched,” he explained Wednesday.

In a sign of souring relations with SAG, the AMPTP blasted Allen for his forecast. calling it “highly counterproductive” and asserting that it fails to recognize the AMPTP’s obligation to bargain with both unions.

AFTRA was polite but firm in its response to SAG’s request.

“The AFTRA primetime negotiating committee thoughtfully considered these requests but respectfully declined. We believe it is in the best interests of our members, and our legal obligation, to proceed with our independent negotiations with the AMPTP,” the union said in a statement.

After telling SAG to stay on the sidelines, AFTRA launched its talks with the majors early Wednesday afternoon at AMPTP headquarters amid a news blackout and with Hollywood’s fears rising about a possible actors strike in July.

“Both parties believe that these negotiations will be most productive if we refrain from commenting to the media until an agreement is reached,” AFTRA and the AMPTP said in a joint statement at the end of the session.

Allen also said it’s premature for SAG to seek a strike authorization from its 120,000 members. Such a vote would have to receive a 75% endorsement for SAG to walk out when its contract expires June 30.

SAG’s failure to reach an agreement with the majors may also leave it at risk of losing new TV shows to AFTRA once the latter’s deal is complete.

AFTRA noted in a message to members that it had split off from joint bargaining with SAG in late March following a series of bitter jurisdictional disputes. AFTRA president Roberta Reardon said the negotiations represent the first time in three decades in which SAG and AFTRA haven’t negotiated together.

“While some have questioned the decision to negotiate apart, know that the decision was not taken lightly,” she said. “Through a constant barrage over the past 15 months, our once-positive relationship with SAG deteriorated, making it impossible now to continue joint bargaining. The AFTRA national board decided on March 29 to suspend joint bargaining because the first and foremost expenditure of AFTRA’s resources must be deployed in facing down management in negotiations, enforcing members’ contracts and caring for members’ interests.”

In a move that appears aimed at dispelling the widespread notion that an AFTRA deal’s already in the cards, Reardon said the talks won’t be quick or easy.

“Make no mistake; we anticipate challenging negotiations as we work to secure greater job opportunities and improved wages and working conditions for the performers who strive to make a living in this industry,” Reardon said in the message.

Reardon asserted the key to making a deal will be solidarity among AFTRA’s 70,000 members. Partly because AFTRA reached an agreement in March on its network code for nonprimetime shows with new-media provisions similar to the DGA and WGA deals, expectations are high that AFTRA will reach a deal.

The majors are expecting the AFTRA talks to last two weeks and have offered SAG the chance to resume negotiations on May 28.

The AMPTP continued to assert Wednesday that significant differences remained on DVD and new-media issues such as streaming and use of clips. For its part, SAG complained about the AMPTP’s refusal to stay at the table and insisted that the two sides were near a deal despite a major gap on the clip issue.

In what appears to be a rallying point, SAG’s insisted in a message to members that it can’t grant the companies permission to use clips without approval from actors. The companies have indicated that obtaining such permission would be too cumbersome to make such a business worthwhile.

SAG pointed out that the WGA and DGA weren’t asked for a consent provision and that AFTRA agreed to remove such a provision in the new-media language in its network code contract.

“We believe it is a very different story for actors in motion pictures and television shows covered by SAG contracts,” SAG said. “Thousands of actors and actors’ estates receive clip payments on a regular basis, but only after consenting to the specific use in advance. Your images are not only your past; they are your future. There are no protections in the AMPTP proposals regarding how and where your image may be used once it is sold.”

The AMPTP, in a “setting the record straight” announcement on Wednesday, disputed SAG’s version of events. On the clips issue, for example, the companies that they’re operating under outmoded conditions.

“To allow our industry to compete successfully against fast-moving competitors on the Internet, the AMPTP has proposed to make a fixed payment in lieu of the bargaining process,” the AMPTP said. “Carrying over the existing bargaining terms, as SAG is insisting, would not be practical or feasible and would prevent the development of this mutually beneficial new market. In short, the issue facing our industry is a fundamental one: Will we be required to compete against agile opponents in the Internet age while constrained by 50-year-old rules, or can we collectively find ways to take advantage of fresh market opportunities that will generate new revenue for both actors and producers?”

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