Producers and Actors Unions Reach Tentative Agreement

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After almost 3 weeks of contract talks, Hollywood producers have reached a tentative deal with one of the actors unions. The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or AFTRA, and the alliance representing the studios announced the agreement yesterday. KPCC's Brian Watt has details.

Brian Watt: From extras to major-role actors, dancers to stunt-men and women, the pact would raise all minimum AFTRA wages at least 3% each year of its three-year span. In cyberspace, it would increase what actors earn when viewers download their work. The contract would also pay residuals when studios stream that work.

Although the studios would not increase DVD residuals, AFTRA president Roberta Rearden called the deal a victory for performers. She told KPCC's AirTalk that negotiations got sticky over one issue: how actors consent to the online use of clips containing their image or voice.

Roberta Rearden: Frankly, I did not realize that this would be the central part of these talks, but the industry was very focused. They wanted to get rid of consent completely in new media, and it was very clear that our members did not want that to happen.

Watt: The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers represented the industry. Its companies want to cash in on the popularity of online video clips, a la iTunes, but they don't want to negotiate each clip separately with each actor in it.

The two sides agreed to work together on systematic ways to address that. Alliance spokesman Jesse Hiestand pointed out that the new media parts of the AFTRA deal resemble the contracts the directors and writers guilds ratified earlier this year.

Jesse Hiestand: Now we have proof that we can make a deal with the actors, and tailor this agreement to their needs.

Watt: Of course, Hiestand said, these aren't the only actors the industry must bargain with. Talks with the Screen Actors Guild, or SAG, re-started hours after the producers announced their deal with AFTRA.

Hiestand: ... and SAG has made no secret of the fact that the clip issue is a major issue for them, and so we're hoping they'll take a long look at this and see the value in trying to find a solution that works for both sides.

Watt: But SAG can't look for too long. Both unions' current contract with the studios expires in a month. For almost 30 years, SAG and AFTRA joined forces to negotiate studio contracts, but a turf dispute this year ended that.

Full disclosure here: this reporter is a lapsed member of both unions. Entertainment labor consultant David White is a former attorney for SAG. He told KPCC's Patt Morrison that AFTRA's deal certainly puts pressure on its sister union.

David White: I think it makes it a little more difficult for the leadership of SAG to say this deal simply doesn't work for performers because we are a different animal.

Watt: White said that Tinseltown is war-weary after a 100 day Writers Guild Strike, and that neither side wants to retake that.