Funds set for organizing purposes

In a move to boost jurisdiction, leaders of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have moved toward raising the standard initiation fee from $1,300 to $1,600 — and earmark those funds strictly for organizing.

AFTRA announced Wednesday that its national board, meeting in Chicago, had voted to recommend that delegates to this week’s AFTRA Convention approve the $300 increase. If approved by delegates, the higher fee would go into effect on Nov. 1.

AFTRA noted that the hike would be the first since 2003 and that annual membership dues remain unchanged. The three-day convention launches Thursday.

“In this challenging economy, union members need strategic and targeted organizing now more than ever,” said AFTRA president Roberta Reardon. “The additional revenues raised from the initiation fee increase will provide current and new AFTRA members with the resources needed to build an effective organizing infrastructure appropriate for the challenges we face in our business today.”

AFTRA shares about 44,000 members with the Screen Actors Guild. About 26,000 of AFTRA’s 70,000 members are news anchors and correspondents, hosts, musicians, weather forecasters and other performer categories.

“Professional performers, broadcast journalists and recording artists employed in the rapidly changing entertainment and media industries need a strong union behind them,” Reardon said. “Strength is sustained through power, and power is achieved through organizing.”

AFTRA also announced a move Wednesday signaling that its often-contentious relationship with SAG appears to be improving, saying it had agreed to joint negotiations with SAG on the non-broadcast Industrial and Educational Recorded Material contract. The national board also voted to authorize the negotiating committee to seek an extension of the current deal, which expires Oct. 31, for up to 18 months in order to provide for time to conduct a joint process of hammering out proposals under a series of “wages and working conditions” meetings,

Relations between SAG and AFTRA hit a low last year when AFTRA angrily split off from joint negotiations and reached its own primetime deal, resulting in SAG blasting the terms of the pact, which had a relatively low 62% ratification. Last fall, AFTRA and SAG agreed to a deal brokered by the AFL-CIO that included “nondisparagement” language along with fines and other discipline for violators, in order to end the bickering.

It remains uncertain whether AFTRA and SAG will negotiate the primetime TV contract together again. SAG’s already locked in to seven weeks of talks starting in October 2010 with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (Daily Variety, June 19).

AFTRA’s national board also endorsed Richard L. Trumka for president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. Trumka, who currently serves as secretary-treasurer, is running unopposed to succeed John J. Sweeney, who’s not seeking re-election.

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