AFTRA's Leaders Defend Contract Ratification Vote

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Members of American Federation of Television and Radio Artists signed off on their new three-year contract Tuesday. With AFTRA buttoned up, KPCC's Brian Watt says all that's left now is a deal with the tough-talking Screen Actors Guild.

Brian Watt: AFTRA President Roberta Reardon called the contract her union ratified a solid one. The leadership of the Screen Actors Guild, the bigger of the two actors unions, thought the deal was anything but solid, and lobbied actors who were both SAG and AFTRA members to vote it down.

They didn't. Reardon told KPCC's "AirTalk" that SAG leaders promised more than they can deliver. She says their campaign against the AFTRA contract confused the rank-and-file.

Roberta Reardon: They said to me, "I don't understand why SAG is telling me to vote this down. They're telling me it's a bad contract. I don't understand what's wrong with this contract."

Watt: What's wrong from SAG's viewpoint is this: the AFTRA deal lets producers to make shows for the Web with non-union casts, and doesn't push producers hard enough on residuals for DVD's and New Media. SAG couldn't convince a majority of AFTRA members to vote "no," but the guild's chief negotiator Doug Allen said the "yes" was hardly resounding.

Doug Allen: If you're a union leader, a 60-40 ratification vote is not exactly a landslide. It's a squeaker, and if you take the broadcast members that don't work under this contract out of that vote, and AFTRA worked that group very hard, I think you're looking at more like a 50-50 split.

Watt: No matter how you interpret the numbers, they don't suggest that many actors were ready for their close-ups on the picket line. SAG's contract with the producers ran out at the end of June, but union leaders, despite their tough talk about the weaknesses of the AFTRA contract, still haven't asked their members to authorize a strike.

If they do, they'll need a "yes" vote from three-quarters of SAG's rank and file. That's a pretty high bar to clear in a tough economy. Doug Allen wouldn't give SAG's exact response to what the producers have called their "final contract" offer. But the producers can say that the Directors Guild, the Writers Guild, and now one actors union have accepted contracts like it.