Sunday, March 30, 2008

A SAG-AFTRA Bargaining Divorce? Another Strike?

The problems between SAG and AFTRA have been percolating for a considerable while. In the last couple of days, the trouble has boiled over:

... the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists voted today to suspend the guild's 27-year joint bargaining agreement with the Screen Actors Guild, leaving the two unions to negotiate separately on new contracts with the major studios ...

For months, I've heard from entertainment union officials that the blood was bad between the unions and the partnership wouldn't end well. I pretty much believed it until the Screen Actors Guild backed off some of its grab for more votes inside the joint-bargaining committee, and SAG and AFTRA reached joint proposals for their upcoming talks with the producers (the AMPTP) last week. Then I thought: "Well, bully for them, they patched things up," and breathed a sigh of relief that we were (perhaps) past the threat of another industry strike.

But maybe I was thinking too ... ahm ... wishfully:

A rift between the two unions could now undermine SAG's leverage to wring the best possible concessions from the studios in its new contract as AFTRA pursues its own agenda on behalf of its members, who work mostly in television.

The move ends a longstanding partnership between the two unions, known as Phase One, under which they had jointly bargained film and prime-time TV contracts for nearly three decades ...

Months ago, at our mother International's executive board meeting in Florida, I was told by an IATSE muckety-muck:

"SAG seems to be on this suicide mission. AFTRA is organizing cable work and that's where the growth is. SAG is going to find itself out in the cold if it's not careful. The studios aren't going to give the Screen Actors Guild more than they give to everybody else, it just frigging won't happen. They AMPTP will negotiate a deal with AFTRA and do a lot more business with them.

"Entertainment workers, actors and everybody else, follow the work, not the union. SAG better figure that out or it's going to be in deep trouble."

What's interesting to me is that SAG and AFTRA were, a few years back, within an eye-blink of merging into One Big Actor's Union. AFTRA wanted the marriage, but SAG voted it down. At the time, I thought "This is an idiotic move for the actors to make," but what did I know, a silly little labor rep sitting off in Animation Land?

Now, however, the short-sightedness of that rejection could be coming back to bite the Actors Guild hard. I only hope that there isn't one more months-long strike that takes a bite out of the Pension and Health plan.


Anonymous said...

Hats off to the AFTRA underdog for calling SAG on this. Will animation cast AFTRA instead and give some new blood a chance at making a living in film?

Steve Hulett said...

I've heard union officers in the IA saying that AFTRA could well end up representing a lot more actors overtime.

SAG, as I understand it, reps actors on FILM. But celluloid is going away, replaced by digital imaging. AFTRA is big in the digital and video tape area.

One problem, as the article above points out, is that AFTRA and the SAG east coast board is less militant than the national board and west coast branch of the Screen Actors Guild.

Personally, I don't like to see all the divisions and in-fighting. Long-term, it hurts more than helps.

Steve Hulett said...

Ah, first sentence above: "... end up representing a lot more actors over time."

I'm not talking about premium/overtime pay.

Anonymous said...

If AFTRA is just responding to how their membership feels, kudos to them. It's a tough spot, but these are not easy times, and it is going to get worse before it gets better.

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