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SAG preps for talks

Unions mired in ongoing disputes

SAG and AFTRA are inching toward the bargaining table over a new basic film-TV contract with the AMPTP next year, even though the two performers unions are mired in ongoing disputes.

In a message Friday from exec director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth and prexy Roberta Reardon, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists announced it will start the formal process of seeking member input in February via the “wages and working conditions” meetings. The current pact — under which SAG generates about 90% of the earnings –expires June 30.

AFTRA noted in the message that it’s departing from the usual process of making a joint announcement with SAG about the W&W meetings due to what it asserted have been SAG’s steps to end the 26-year-old Phase One bargaining agreement under which the two unions jointly negotiate.

“Our responsibility to you and all AFTRA members requires that a schedule for formal W&W — that had been delayed while AFTRA waited to learn whether SAG wished to continue the Phase One Agreement as it existed — be commenced as soon as possible,” Hedgpeth and Reardon said.

SAG national exec director Doug Allen denied that the guild is planning to abandon joint bargaining and denied AFTRA’s accusation that SAG has been delaying the process.

“SAG remains committed to Phase One bargaining and has not made a decision to negotiate separately,” he said. “We began our negotiations preparation long ago and have conducted extensive research and member outreach on many issues, including new media. Our member-driven wages and working conditions process, by which our bargaining proposals are developed, will ramp up after the new year.”

The SAG-AFTRA negotiations process is being closely watched by the majors due to fears that thesps may strike this summer. SAG is more closely aligned with the Writers Guild of America than any other Hollywood union, and its members have been supportive of the writers throughout their seven-week strike.

For their part, AFTRA leaders made no mention of the WGA strike in their missive other than to note that it could impact AFTRA’s network code contract negotiations, which cover non-primetime TV work such as soaps, talkshows, variety shows and sports. Hedgpeth and Reardon said “net code” talks will start in mid-January; that contract’s expiration date was extended several months ago from Nov. 15 to Jan. 31.

The AFTRA leaders also said in the message that they were encouraged by last week’s announcement by the Directors Guild of America that it plans to schedule talks with the AMPTP early next year.

The SAG-AFTRA dispute stems from SAG’s move in July to institute “bloc voting” on its negotiating committee — meaning all votes by SAG reps on the panel would be counted as votes toward whatever their majority decided. SAG’s leaders opted for bloc voting after failing to persuade AFTRA to allocate more seats at the bargaining table to SAG, based on the notion that SAG members generate the lion’s share of performance work.

The “bloc voting” idea had been opposed not just by AFTRA but by SAG moderates out of concerns that those currently in power at SAG tend to espouse a more aggressive stance than those at AFTRA.

The performers unions also have been at odds over SAG’s accusation that AFTRA is poaching SAG’s turf on basic cable shows and shilling for producers by signing lowball deals. AFTRA responded by accusing SAG of trying to take over AFTRA.

In response to a question about the appearances of disunity between the two unions, Allen said, “It is our hope that we will bargain jointly with AFTRA in the coming year. We believe cooperation and collaboration among entertainment unions is good for their members and ours, but our priority will always be to do what is in the best interests of Screen Actors Guild members.”

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