SAG exploring AFTRA jurisdiction

Guild's Hollywood division approves resolution

In a sign of the ongoing bad blood between the unions, SAG’s Hollywood division has approved a resolution exploring the “acquisition” of AFTRA actors.

The move, made Monday on a split vote, establishes a seven-member task force that will report back to the Hollywood board to make a recommendation to the national board. And it raised red flags that SAG’s elected representatives from the hardline Membership First faction want to disempower AFTRA by eliminating its jurisdiction over TV acting.

SAG had no comment. AFTRA spokesman Chris de Haan said in response Wednesday: “We are aware of the matter and are discussing it with legal counsel. We have no further comment at this time.”

Concerns about SAG moving to take over AFTRA’s jurisdiction were emphatically denied by first VP Anne-Marie Johnson, a Membership First leader who will head the task force. She told Daily Variety that use of the word “acquisition” in the resolution did not imply an endorsement of SAG adopting such a strategy.

“The task force has been charged with exploring ways to deal with working members’ concerns of having to belong to two unions,” she said. “This reflects the desire of many actors in Los Angeles to find a plausible way to bring actors under a single union.”

The moderate coalition that controls SAG’s national board has long supported a merger of SAG and AFTRA — a strategy opposed by Membership First, which controls the Hollywood board. Members of the moderate Unite for Strength faction voted against the resolution Monday, and SAG general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland voiced concerns that the resolution could violate last fall’s nondisparagement agreement between SAG and AFTRA.

The question of how to deal with the split TV jurisdiction will play out at upcoming elections for AFTRA’s national board next month and for SAG’s national board in September.

SAG and AFTRA have shared 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 in the past year: With the biz on SAG strike watch, nearly all broadcast TV pilots went AFTRA. Once the union designation is made during the initial casting phase, a show cannot switch its affiliation unless its production format changes.

On the cable front, AFTRA has made major inroads in covering scripted programs because the terms of its contract differ significantly from SAG’s cable terms. That’s prompted criticism of AFTRA by SAG and in the creative community for offering what some call “made to fit” terms.

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