SAG, AFTRA to Jointly Negotiate Mad Ave Contract

Actors Unions Seemingly Bury Hatchet After Acrimonious Feud With Hollywood Producers

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Two actors unions that have butted heads in the past over contract negotiations with Hollywood producers announced yesterday that they have re-established a framework in which to jointly negotiate a soon-to-expire commercials contract.

The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists last August agreed to a five-month extension of their commercials contracts; that extension expires on March 31.

Roberta Reardon
Roberta Reardon Credit: AFTRA
After working with the AFL-CIO, the two guilds issued statements on Sunday pledging to "foster a healthy and productive joint bargaining relationship" -- even though signs of their recent, bitter feuding were in also evidence: Prohibitions against "raiding" and "disparagment" were written into the guidelines for their upcoming joint negotiations next month -- an embarrassingly public acknowledgment of SAG's unsuccessful attempts to undercut AFTRA's ratification of a new TV contract with Hollywood producers last summer.

While AFTRA represents some 70,000 actors, recording artists and broadcasters, more than half of AFTRA's members are also part of the larger the SAG, which oversees all film work and all TV shot on film.

In a July interview with Advertising Age, AFTRA head Roberta Reardon called SAG president Alan Rosenberg's efforts to short-circuit her union's new TV contract "unconscionable."

Of course, the attempt at cooperation may be too little, too late: While AFTRA has been working under its new TV contract for more than half a year, SAG has yet to even reach a new TV and feature deal with producers; its contract expired on June 30, 2008.

Alan Rosenberg
Alan Rosenberg Credit: AP
Further decreasing SAG's leverage, a softening economy means its membership appears to lack the will to go out on a strike of any kind, commercial or otherwise. In a Jan. 18 letter to SAG members, Executive Director Doug Allen wrote, "Although I believe giving the National Board the authorization to determine whether to call a strike is our best strategy, that strategy has been severely compromised by the division of a now deeply and publicly split National Board leadership."

Then, just days later, Mr. Rosenberg relented, proposing that his union's 120,000 members vote directly on whether to accept the producers final TV-and-feature-contract offer without first taking a strike authorization -- a step long considered essential to being taken seriously by management in any collective bargaining effort.

Commercials-contract negotiations are now scheduled to begin in New York on Feb. 23.

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