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AFTRA rejects SAG plan

Hostilities between unions show at confab

The American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have spurned SAG’s offer of an olive branch, reflecting the sour partnership between the actors unions.

AFTRA’s leaders, meeting Friday and Saturday at the union’s national convention at the Sheraton Universal, refused to act on a request by the Screen Actors Guild to create a SAG relations committee.

SAG leaders created such a panel two weeks ago in a move aimed at heading off ongoing battles between the unions in such volatile areas as contract jurisdiction.

SAG and AFTRA leaders have not held “a summit meeting” to discuss areas of shared jurisdiction in three years. AFTRA prexy John Connolly told the confab that the issue could not be acted on because SAG had not made a formal request of AFTRA.

“There was some uncertainty as to the goal of the committee, but it was the sense of the body that we should move in that direction once we clear that up,” AFTRA spokeswoman Jayne Wallace said.

Hostility showing

But the next AFTRA plenary is not until late October, and several AFTRA board members said the incident typified the tone of hostility shown by AFTRA leaders toward SAG during the confab.

For example, Connolly promised that AFTRA will continue to organize “anything digital” despite SAG’s strenuous objections to AFTRA’s claim of jurisdiction over Fox shows shot on digital.

Wallace attempted to soft-pedal the dispute with SAG over Fox, saying, “That’s being worked out among staff.”

The jurisdiction issue is a major concern for members because SAG’s contracts generally contain higher rates and benefits than AFTRA’s. SAG’s jurisdiction covers the glamour areas of features and primetime TV.

AFTRA leaders also expressed their displeasure over SAG’s recent decision to reduce its physical presence from 25 to 15 cities, which meant pulling out of many smaller offices where SAG either shared space with AFTRA or paid AFTRA execs to administer the SAG contract.

SAG claims the move will save $1.3 million annually, with a significant portion being funds that will no longer be paid to AFTRA.

Offices may be closed

The AFTRA leaders admitted during the confab that they may be forced to close some AFTRA offices as a result but did not go into details.

“It will require some sacrifice and much hard work and offers AFTRA an opportunity to strengthen its own identity and profile among broadcasters, actors, singers and other performing professionals,” national exec director Greg Hessinger said.

Connolly also took a swipe at SAG’s plans to operate in nine cities in smaller suites staffed with district executives rather than “brick and mortar” offices.

“Bricks and mortar mean you care about a town, a region and a community and we will maintain the care and service we will provide to our members,” he said.

The national AFTRA board voted specifically to direct its finance committee to start meetings with local staff on logistics.

The confab also included an update over the move by AFTRA’s national board in April to revamp the union’s master franchise agreement, including an easing of agency ownership restrictions.

SAG members voted in April against a similar revamp due to concerns about potential conflicts of interest, though AFTRA leaders have insisted they were not trying to undercut SAG.

Hard to figure

Actors now face a confusing scenario since SAG has told its members not to sign any deals with agents at terms that would not have been allowed under the expired SAG agreement.

The new AFTRA agreement, which also allows agents to commission all actor earnings, went into effect a month ago.

SAG has 98,000 members, while AFTRA’s rolls total about 80,000, with about 40,000 actors belonging to both unions. SAG members voted in early 1999 against a merger amid concerns over additional dues, how SAG would represent broadcasters and how the pension funds would be treated.

The issue of a merger has arisen in the current SAG national board elections, with allies of prexy Melissa Gilbert arguing that the unions should be combined to avoid battles between the two orgs.

In other actions at the confab:

  • Los Angeles exec director John Russum announced the lifting of AFTRA’s “no contract, no work” rule against Black Entertainment Television (BET) as a result of the union’s organizing campaign and successful negotiations for a contract covering performers appearing on “Comic View.” Russum said additional contracts are being signed with BET shows.

  • AFTRA said it has increased the number of dramatic programming contracts among cable and broadcast TV nets and has signed more than 100 new shows in basic cable since December, including specials, pilots and series.

  • Org supported actions taken by the Radio-Television News Directors Assn. and other professional journalist associations in urging Congress to reject provisions in the Homeland Security Act that ask to exempt certain types of information from disclosure to the public under the Freedom of Information Act.

  • AFTRA supported legislative efforts designed to protect the health, security and welfare of young performers.

  • Org announced the presentation to AFTRA of the “Golden Eagle Amigo Award” from Nosotros, the organization founded by Ricardo Montalban to improve the image of Latinos/Hispanics both in front of and behind the camera.

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