Guilds move toward joint talks on feature-primetime contract

The final step in the Screen Actors Guild’s reconciliation with the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists will take place in two weeks.

SAG had no official comment, but it’s been notifying national board members that a special videoconference will take place March 13 to discuss resuming joint negotiations with AFTRA on its feature-primetime contract. AFTRA’s national board approved joint negotiations Saturday, nearly two years after it had split from SAG and negotiated its own primetime deal.

AFTRA’s board vote called for joint negotiations with SAG under terms of the 30-year-old Phase One agreement and a 2-year-old “no-raiding nondisparagement” agreement that was employed during last year’s commercial negotiations with ad agencies.

Once SAG OKs joint bargaining with AFTRA, the next step will be to name members for the “wages and working conditions” committee to meet with members and instruct staff how the bargaining proposal should be crafted.

SAG has seven weeks of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers starting on Oct. 1 and is the only Hollywood union with a negotiations date already set. Both the SAG and AFTRA deals expire on June 30, 2011.

SAG president Ken Howard, who has strongly endorsed improving relations with AFTRA, issued a statement Monday, saying he was “delighted” to see the AFTRA board give its unanimous support. “It’s great news for our members and I’m looking forward to the SAG board giving its approval so we can begin working as partners toward a successful negotiation,” he added.

Howard heads the Unite For Strength faction, which also issued a statement Monday in support of “greater unity” and noting that media conglomerates continue to opt for AFTRA contracts on TV pilots — an area in which SAG and AFTRA share jurisdiction — in light of SAG’s “substantial” coverage of existing shows.

“Employers may hope this will provoke cost-cutting competition between our unions; thankfully, SAG and AFTRA leaders appear committed to a strong, unified approach,” the statement said.

UFS also reiterated support for a SAG-AFTRA merger.

“A single union covering all jurisdictions will obviously be more powerful at the bargaining table and will yield other dramatic improvements as well: It will end pointless double dues and finally stop the destructive splitting of our pension and health contributions that’s making qualifying for either harder and harder,” it said. “Actors deserve to have these problems solved; that’s why UFS continues to support the future merger of SAG and AFTRA.”

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