While AFTRA represents some 70,000 actors, recording artists, and broadcasters, more than half of AFTRA's members are also part of its larger sibling union, the Screen Actors Guild, which oversees all film work and the lion's share of TV.
In recent weeks, SAG had mounted an aggressive online effort on YouTube to urge the 44,000 members of SAG who also belong to AFTRA to vote down the tentative agreement. Spearheaded by high profile SAG members such as Ben Stiller, Martin Sheen and Viggo Mortensen, it clearly gained some traction: Normally, such contracts are approved with near-unanimous approval. With greater than a third of AFTRA voting against the proposed pact, it marks one of the most anemic acclamations in years.
While the deal spares Hollywood and Madison Avenue another costly strike -- the Writers Guild of America staged a 100-day walkout -- it leaves the relationship between the two labor unions in tatters.
Said AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon in a statement released to reporters last night, "Despite an unprecedented disinformation campaign aimed at interfering with our ratification process, a majority of members ultimately focused on what mattered -- the obvious merits of a labor agreement that contains substantial gains for every category of performer in both traditional and new media."
Added Ms. Reardon, "Clearly, this was not a typical ratification process, and it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise. To those of us for whom labor solidarity is more than just a slogan, the idea that politically-motivated leaders of one union would use their members' dues to attack another union is unconscionable. Working people do not benefit when their union is under attack."
For the first time in 27 years, strife this year between SAG and AFTRA lead to the dissolution of a joint-bargaining agreement that prevented one guild from being pitted against the other.
SAG President Allen Rosenberg was unbowed by the failure to defeat the AFTRA pact. While he noted in a statement on the SAG website that "clearly many Screen Actors Guild members responded to our education and outreach campaign and voted against the inadequate AFTRA agreement," he went on to insist that SAG "will continue to address the issues of importance to actors that AFTRA left on the table and we remain committed to achieving a fair contract for SAG actors."
Given the lack of amity between the two guilds, an immediate offer of rapprochement with SAG by Ms. Reardon seems about as likely as a strike by an isolated SAG.
Nonetheless, Ms. Reardon said that AFTRA's leadership was "eager" to organize a summit of top actors, performers and union leaders to engage in "a thoughtful, constructive discussion of how we can achieve unity among performers --and ultimately, if feasible, merger of the performers' unions," as well as a return to joint bargaining over the upcoming commercials contract.
Meanwhile, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers announced, "We appreciate today's vote of confidence by actors in the agreement we reached with AFTRA, and hope that it demonstrates to SAG's Hollywood leadership that there is support for the new economic relationships we have built with writers, directors and actors -- and not much support for a strike, whether de facto or real."