AFTRA is ramping up a major campaign to organize telepics shot on digital with budgets under $2 million, contending it shares jurisdiction with SAG in the area.

AFTRA staff made presentations about the effort last week to elected leaders at the union’s national convention in Nashville.

Since the Screen Actors Guild has traditionally covered TV films, AFTRA’s move is likely to cause confusion among producers over which union has jurisdiction. The need to clarify such issues was a key argument used by pro-merger forces during the recent unsuccessful vote to combine the performers orgs.

SAG reps actors on TV shows shot on film, covering primetime; AFTRA handles performances on tape, such as gameshows, variety and soap operas.

AFTRA national exec director Greg Hessinger told Daily Variety that AFTRA has been using the pact since 2000 with rates and terms that are “virtually identical” to SAG’s independent-film contract. He insisted the pact is used only for TV movies, not for features.

Hessinger also admitted the campaign represents a significant beefing-up of AFTRA’s efforts and indicated he does not believe SAG has the resources to cover all the work in the sector.

“Our overwhelming experience has been that without our contract, the TV movies would have either been non-union or shot in Canada, which means AFTRA’s organization efforts are leading to more union jobs for actors,” Hessinger said. “We have the responsibility to organize AFTRA work.”

Over the weekend, AFTRA leaders approved a $100 increase in the initiation fee, a 10% hike in base dues during the next two years and a $50 annual special assessment for the same period, with the goal of improving AFTRA’s shaky finances and allocating more resources to organizing.

Asked about SAG’s response to the initiative, Hessinger said, “Neither one of us enjoys this kind of situation.”

SAG and AFTRA reached a confidential settlement on a dispute last year over jurisdiction of Fox shows shot with digital cameras, with SAG retaining jurisdiction, but at lower AFTRA rates on some shows. AFTRA had signed up 10 Fox-produced pilots shot on digital, leading to SAG’s accusing AFTRA of violating the 1981 jurisdiction agreement.

The use of AFTRA rates meant significantly lower pay for two classes of SAG performers — those who speak five lines or less on a show and background actors.

Opponents of the merger have asserted that the jurisdictional dispute over such shows had been artificially manufactured as a pretext by union staffs to drive the merger campaign. They noted AFTRA has claimed it lacks the resources to organize hundreds of non-union cable shows but chose to battle SAG in a disputed arena at the same time.