Leaders of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television & Radio Artists are battling each other once again, this time in a jurisdictional dispute centered on cable TV.
More than 20 members of SAG’s Membership First faction — which took control of the guild board two years ago — have banded together as AFTRAartists to run for slots on the AFTRA national board, the Los Angeles board and as delegates to the national convention.
Their beef focuses on provisions for free re-runs (dubbed “exhibition days”) on 30 cable shows covered by AFTRA such as “Dirt,” “Zooey 101,” “Hannah Montana” and “The Sara Silverman Show.”
The group says AFTRA should only sign deals that are equivalent to SAG’s. AFTRA’s contention is that if the shows are shot on digital, either union can go after the program since that area has never been defined and that AFTRA should make these deals with cable networks to avoid producers going non-union.
That’s a position that AFTRAartists contends is unrealistic when such stars as Courteney Cox (“Dirt”) are involved. “The leadership of one union is undercutting the better rates and working conditions of another union, using excuses and ‘digital loopholes’ to secure contracts which pay you less for your work,” the group said.
But AFTRA board member Matt Kimbrough, who’s seeking re-election, told Daily Variety that AFTRA’s obligated to try to negotiate those deals up to SAG scale when they’re up for renewal. He also noted that AFTRA’s simply responding to the changing economics of the biz by offering low-budget contracts much as the DGA, WGA, SAG and IATSE do.
“Where is it written that AFTRA’s the only union that can’t offer a low-budget contract?” he asked. “This is an issue that all unions are striving to figure out.”
Kimbrough also noted that the jurisdictional issues would have been resolved had SAG agreed to merge with AFTRA four years ago. That measure was voted down by a narrow margin by SAG members amid concerns over the loss of autonomy.
With the AFTRA national board comprised of more than 70 seats, the AFTRAartist slate won’t be able to gain control of AFTRA in this election, which concludes May 22. Candidates include well-known SAG members such as Bonnie Bartlett, George Coe, Frances Fisher, Kent McCord and JoBeth Williams.
Earlier this year, SAG national exec director Doug Allen told AFTRA the two unions need to work out a definitive solution to which union covers what, especially since some SAG leaders want to revoke Phase I — the 1981 agreement under which SAG and AFTRA agreed to jointly negotiate contracts under which they had common interests.
Under Phase I, AFTRA gets half the negotiating committee seats on the film-TV and commercials contracts, even though its contribution on those contracts is well under 15%.
SAG has about 100,000 dues-current members while AFTRA’s total is about 70,000. About 40,000 performers belong to both unions.