Thesp guilds on more united front

SAG more likely to negotiate with AFTRA next year

With moderates dominating last week’s election, the Screen Actors Guild has become far more likely to negotiate its feature-primetime contract jointly with the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists next year rather than go it alone again.

Neither union’s committed to a joint course, but signs indicate that AFTRA will be a bargaining partner again when SAG launches seven weeks of mandated contract talks on Oct. 1, 2010, with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

Newly elected SAG president Ken Howard already indicated at his post-election news conference that reaching out to the other Hollywood — “especially AFTRA” — would be a top priority as a follow-through to his campaign promises of working closely with other unions.

For its part, AFTRA’s playing its cards close to the vest, with president Roberta Reardon issuing a brief statement Friday congratulating Howard for his election — and also congratulatinig the DGA’s Taylor Hackford, the WGA West’s John Wells and IATSE’s Matt Loeb.

But people with knowledge of the situation have indicated SAG’s tilt away from the self-styled progressives of Membership First has made it possible to start laying the groundwork to resume joint bargaining.

AFTRA angrily split from SAG in March 2008 and reached a deal separately on its primetime contract two months later. With SAG and AFTRA sharing jurisdiction over primetime series, the longstanding agreement has been that SAG reps all projects shot on film, while SAG and AFTRA have an equal shot at projects shot electronically — but with more primetime skeins shot in high-definition digital formats, AFTRA’s electronic purview has greatly expanded as nearly all primetime pilots went to it.

In addition, Unite for Strength noted during its campaign that SAG’s yearlong delay in making a feature-primetime deal had led to SAG members losing $80 million in salary hikes. Both the SAG and AFTRA contracts expire in June 2011.

SAG recently disavowed a controversial May decision by its Hollywood board to explore the “acquisition” of actors repped through AFTRA. SAG was required by an AFL-CIO umpire to officially repudiate the decision on grounds that it violated the year-old nondisparagement agreement between the unions, which required both to deposit $2 million for potential fines as a condition of negotiating jointly on their commercials contract.

And last week’s elections may have placed control of the Hollywood division, long dominated by Membership First, into the hands of Unite for Strength by a narrow majority after it won 21 of the 33 seats that were up — though it’s still a toss-up as to which faction can prevail at meetings.

The moderates also strengthened their control of the national board — meaning that interim national exec director David White, who replaced Doug Allen last January, may be offered a permanent job.

The next Hollywood board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 5, and the national board plenary is set for Oct. 17-18.

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