AFTRA Members Ratify Contract with Studios

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Members of the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists (AFTRA) have ratified a three-year contract. The other actors' union, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), had urged AFTRA members to vote down the contract. SAG is negotiating its own contract with movie and TV producers. KPCC Morning Edition host Steve Julian spoke with AFTRA's president Roberta Reardon and KPCC's Brian Watt about the ratification vote and the SAG negotiations.

Roberta Reardon: It was a good, healthy turnout. I was very happy with the result. Of course, we're very cognizant of the fact that the Screen Actors Guild campaign had an effect on the vote, but, you know, clearly, almost two to one majority of members approved the ratification, and we're very pleased with that.

You know, this campaign by the Screen Actors Guild is really unprecedented. We have never faced that kind of challenge in a ratification. They put a tremendous amount of money and resources into trying to defeat our contract, and it's really unconscionable, but I'm very happy to say that they failed in that attempted, and we have a new contract, and people are ready to get back to work. Or continue working; we never stopped.

Julian: You called it an unprecedented disinformation campaign. How much damage has been done between SAG and AFTRA?

Reardon: Tremendous amount. A tremendous amount of damage has been done. The Hollywood leadership of the Screen Actors Guild has a lot to answer for, I think. They should be held accountable for the waste of members' dues, for the distraction from their own negotiations. This is their most important contract, and the fact that they distracted their own negotiating committee by running this campaign is really just unconscionable.

I'm shocked that they made the effort, and I'm unhappy that they've so distracted the members from what they really need to be doing, which is getting a strong contract for Screen Actors Guild. I think that there– it will be a difficult process to remit the fracture trust between these two unions. Now, that being said, I have to say that we had a tremendous amount of support from elected leadership of the Screen Actors Guild from around the country.

I think there were nine different, ultimately nine different resolutions of support from various councils and joint membership meetings. This is clearly the work of a small faction of the Screen Actors Guild that's unfortunately now in control of their national board.

They have an election in September, and I hope that members look seriously at the damage that's been done, the waste of resources; I'm told that it was over, probably well over $150,000 of dues money that was spent in this really frivolous attack. I just, I can't imagine what they were thinking, but I'm happy that they didn't succeed in the effort.

Julian: KPCC is not a union shop, but a lot of radio stations across the country are. Did you rely, as SAG's president said you did, on the votes of non-actor members like news broadcasters and DJ's?

Reardon: No. I mean, I'm happy to say that all members of AFTRA were able to vote on this contract, because it affects every member of this union. Certainly, the health and retirement contributions, and the cost of a possible strike, affects everyone, but over 90% of AFTRA members are registered either as actors or in some other entertainment category.

Less than 6% of our members are actually newscasters, so we could not rely on the newscasters, even if they voted at a hundred percent to ratify anything. They're wonderful, supportive members of our union; we're very proud that they're a part of our union, but we did not– they did not make the difference in this campaign.

This contract was supported by the actors and entertainers who work in AFTRA product. It's ridiculous for Alan Rosenberg to say that. Clearly, he does not have any awareness of the composition of AFTRA. He's just making stuff up.

Julian: Well how much of this is rhetoric? Because SAG, as you said, does vote in September, and they're still trying to get a deal done with AMPTP. They don't like what you got.

Reardon: You know, it's very interesting. Um, people have asked me repeatedly, why don't they like what we got? And I think one of the reasons they don't like it is, we got it. This is very much a pattern deal. This is a pattern industry. If the Screen Actors Guild wanted to set the pattern, they should have gone in first, not last.

They certainly had the opportunity to go in much earlier. I know that the industry invited them in February to come to the table then, and they said no, no, you know, we're going to wait, thinking that their leverage really happened, I guess, in June. This is a solid deal. I think the problem is the leadership of the Hollywood faction of the guild have severely overpromised to their members, and they are bound to underdeliver, and they had to find a fall guy.

And as usual, they turned to their former bargaining partner to make us the fall guy. This is not news. They have done this repeatedly. And they're going to try and do it again. My guess is, at the end of the day, they will end up with a contract that looks extremely similar to the AFTRA deal.

Julian: AFTRA has a three-year deal, now ratified as of last night. Roberta Reardon, is it possible that if SAG approves a three-year deal this fall, that you two can bargain together again in three years?

Reardon: Absolutely possible. It really depends on who's in the leadership of the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA. And I know that, you know, if you look at what's been out in the ether about this, members don't like us to fight. They prefer us to negotiate together, and clearly, it's in the best interest of labor.

Not just SAG and AFTRA, but all of the unions and guilds in this industry, to be much more collaborative and coordinated. And I really look forward to sitting down with the leadership from all the other arts and entertainment media industry unions and seeing how, in the future, we can do this in a much more coordinated manner.

Julian: Roberta Reardon is the national president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Thanks very much. We appreciate your time.

Reardon: Thank you very much.

Julian: Brian Watt has been following these negotiations. And Brian, we should disclose, you're a member of AFTRA and SAG, the Screen Actors Guild. I want to ask you about SAG's response to the AFTRA contract, but remind us first, quickly, what AFTRA members get over three years.

Watt: Well, let's start with the basics. Every AFTRA performer gets a bump in minimum pay of three-and-a-half percent each year over the three years of the contract. The deal also puts original programs made for new media, that's the Internet or cell phones, into AFTRA's jurisdiction.

And AFTRA and the producers' alliance have agreed to put together a system over the next three months for getting an actor's consent for the use, the future use of clips of their work in other products. So that's three key points.

Julian: We just heard Robert Reardon's take on SAG's views on the AFTRA deal. Is this contract going to be an albatross around SAG's neck?

Watt: Well, you heard Roberta Reardon talking about the "pattern" that this contract follows, and because the AMPTP, the Hollywood producers' alliance, have been able to make a deal similar to this one with both the Directors Guild and the Writers Guild, yes, SAG is going to have to deal with the fact that they're the last. They are the caboose in a train, and really should follow the rest of the train.

Julian: Is it likely, or unlikely, that SAG will strike this fall?

Watt: I think SAG has a really tough decision to make about that. In order to strike, SAG is going to have to call a vote, and get the support of 75% of its members in order to get the strike going. So, given that it couldn't get, couldn't defeat this AFTRA deal, I think the enthusiasm in the town for a strike is very low.

Julian: Maybe repeating that more than 6 in 10 AFTRA members voted for this three-year deal. Brian Watt, thanks very much.

Watt: Thank you, Steve.