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Sunday, March 30, 2008

I've never really been fond of AFTRA

This is a repost of my friend Anthony's blog on MySpace:

Current mood: Motivated

To all my actor friends and friends of actors,

This is a long one but it’s incredibly important for actors to read.

Today is an important day. Yesterday AFTRA decided to separate itself from joint negotiations with the Screen Actors Guild on the upcoming TV/Theatrical and Exhibit A contracts, thereby ending our joint bargaining agreement called Phase One.

No matter what you know about or think about the current SAG AFTRA situation, or the failed merger or the various political factions, the time to be informed is now.

Regardless of what mistakes or errors in judgement you may believe either or both of your unions have made, the time to get involved is now.

No matter who you may blame for the current situation, the time to take action is now.

This is nothing less than a war for our future ability to make a living as middle class actors.

I am including Nikki Finke’s article on the subject below for some background. The article is accurate. I was in the board room and I have been a witness to the events of the past year as a Hollywood SAG board member for the past 5 years and as a member of the joint Working and Wages committee. (Interestingly, the group of AFTRA representatives who delivered the message to SAG included only one working actor.)

What can you or should you do?

Please forward this email to every actor or friend of actors you know.
*Tell them that AFTRA is jeopardizing their future ability to make a living as an actor by continually undercutting SAG contract minimums--negotiating cheaper deals with producers.
*Have this conversation as many times with as many actors as you can.
*Talk to each other via email (build your SAG email lists), in audition rooms, at your classes, with your agents (our ability to make a living is directly entwined with theirs), and with your AFTRA leadership.
*Call AFTRA (323) 634-8100 and tell them to get back to Phase One and negotiate jointly with Screen Actors Guild or at the very least stick to the negotiating proposals that were voted up by the joint Working and Wages committee. I can tell you that the negotiating proposals voted up by working actors from both unions are fair and reasonable, approved unanimously by the W&W committee (composed equally of SAG and AFTRA members) and the key to the middle class actor’s future.

The fact that AFTRA has recently followed a policy of undercutting SAG contract minimums is not disputed by AFTRA. I was there when two of their leaders admitted that they had signed contracts with producers for rates lower than the contract minimums negotiated by SAG. Under the Phase 1 agreement neither union is allowed to undercut the other. Put simply--and anyone who has worked on an AFTRA show can attest to this--you make far less in residuals on an AFTRA show than you do on a SAG show. Talk to any cast member from Army Wives, Dirt, Damages, Corey in the House or any other AFTRA-contracted show. They are furious with the terms of their AFTRA contracts.

Due now to AFTRA’s choice to negotiate alone, the danger is that AFTRA will sign on to the formula deal that the Writers were forced to sign after they were shamefully hamstrung by the DGA, who inexcusably played industry patsy and negotiated their deal while their sister union was walking the picket line. Make no mistake. The DGA and WGA deals do no favors for actors. They are apples and oranges when it comes to what actors need to continue making a living, supporting their families, paying their mortgages and surviving as professional actors (not hobbyists).

If we actors are forced to take their deals without serious changes to reflect the needs of actors, then the demise of the acting middle class will be assured.

To continue to make a living as actors, the middle class actor in particular cannot accept the WGA terms. We will effectively be cut out of New Media money as we have been on Home Video and Cable and we will get nothing on DVD--an industry that earned the studios almost 30 billion dollars last year (of which the actors shared 1%). That source of revenue is not going away in the next 3 years I can assure you.

We must ALL now do the work of traditional Union Organizing. That means that we must continue to have this conversation with every actor we can so that we are informed, organized and mobilized as a Union. We need to pay attention to communication from the Guild. We need to answer the call when our Union needs us.

1. Make sure your email address is current with the Screen Actors Guild
2. Check the website regularly -- Bookmark it.
3. Attend Members on the Move meetings
4. Join in the Hollywood to the Docks labor march on April 15. It will begin at a rally at the Screen Actors Guild HQ at 5757 Wilshire Blvd. There is a war going on over the entire globe as labor fights to protect its ability to make a living and preserve healthcare and pensions. Stand up with members of other unions. We will need their support as they need ours.
5. Talk to other actors. Get informed and stay informed.

This is where the rubber meets the road.

Are you willing to stand up and defend your chosen careers? Will you show up?

If you don’t, you will lose your ability to make a living as an actor and become waiters, temps, hobbyists, teaching subs, etc. first and actors last instead of the other way around.

It’s time to support the Screen Actors Guild.

Anthony De Santis


Deadline Hollywood Daily

UPDATE: Tonight I received the news that AFTRA national president Roberta Reardon and officers including Susan Boyd Joyce, Denny Delk, Bob Edwards, Matt Kimbrough, Shelby Scott held their national meeting and approved a formal rift with their stepsister actors union SAG. They then went to SAG’s national board meeting and declared that AFTRA won’t negotiate jointly with the Screen Actors Guild on the new primetime TV contract. This, in spite of a long-time agreement by AFTRA to bargain jointly with SAG and not undercut rates. So basically those "make nice" pronouncements of recent days are out the window. And all because of a blown-way-out-proportion incident involving AFTRA, SAG and the soap opera The Bold And The Beautiful. Now AFTRA has taken such an extreme position that not even the AFL-CIO may be able to rein it in.

The AFTRA maneuver is disingenuous, bordering on slightly dishonest, because I’m told the union has known about the B&B incident for weeks and done nothing until this weekend. Then there’s the curious and convenient timing of an obviously planted story in the Los Angeles Times Saturday, designed to give Reardon some protective cover. So it now looks like tonight’s announcement was a carefully planned 11th hour ploy by her to get out of joint bargaining and justify AFTRA’s going it alone. My sources assure me that AFTRA has false concerns because SAG has no interest in organizing daytime. If anything, the concern is justified the other way around because AFTRA is already treading on SAG’s scripted TV turf by repping, for example, both Damage and Dirt.
It was hardly a secret, much less a scoop, that the Emmy-winning star of The Bold And The Beautiful, Susan Flannery, has for some time now circulated a petition to decertify AFTRA as the union representing the actors on the long-running soap. But, suddenly, the LA Times was exaggerating a minor matter whereby SAG’s national executive director Doug Allen was approached by two B&B actors for a meeting.

When the duo launched into a litany of complaints about AFTRA’s representation, witnesses tell me that Allen properly turned them aside and sent them back to AFTRA. But it took the LAT until the 11th paragraph to convey that salient point. And the paper never bothered to mention that these two B&B cast members were also SAG members since there are many dual cardholders.

This is, after all, the very same newspaper that took every side but the WGA’s when the striking writers were pressured by the moguls and the directors. And the same newspaper that ignored the recent AFTRA-SAG blame game when AFTRA was at fault. Yet the LAT on Saturday was breathlessly reporting how "AFTRA officials were upset at SAG for not telling them about the meeting until two weeks after the fact, according to Reardon." Interesting that she timed her public hissy fit to the very weekend when both AFTRA and SAG national boards were meeting on the eve of the two guilds starting joint negotiations on the primetime TV contract.

I’m told from inside AFTRA’s board confab that Reardon "misrepresented the incident to blame Doug Allen for encouraging poaching and raiding even though that’s not the case. Reardon said it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. She’s using this as an excuse because she’s wanted to get out of Phase One for the past year."

Reardon acolytes keep claiming that SAG’s so-called "Membership First" leadership clique is causing all the current trouble with AFTRA. Don’t misunderstand me: there’s plenty of petty nonsense going on inside both camps. But it’s painful to watch the actors guilds battle amongst themselves (or even the actors inside SAG) with that June deadline bearing down. I sense real concern that dual cardholders may not stay loyal in the event of a SAG strike. Which serves to explain why this latest Reardon move looks like an AFTRA ploy to further encroach on SAG’s jurisdiction by offering inferior terms on contracts. While SAG accounts for 100% of motion pictures and about 90+% of television, AFTRA has 3 shows under this primetime TV contract. Now it appears that AFTRA is going to negotiate those on its own, thus continuing the union’s shameful history of pay undercuts and residuals giveaways that have compromised actors for years. Lots of casts are still unhappy with AFTRA’s basic cable deals, so there will be more when AFTRA folds on primetime contract points. Why, it’s a Big Media mogul’s wet dream!

But here’s what Reardon said in a statement Saturday night:

"AFTRA’s primary goal is to improve and protect the working lives of performers. During the past year, AFTRA has fought hard and expended an enormous amount of time, energy and resources to maintain the integrity of our Phase One joint bargaining process with the Screen Actors Guild, so we could sit across the table from the industry with total and unequivocal unity. Unfortunately, SAG leadership has made this impossible. For the past year SAG leadership in Hollywood has engaged in a relentless campaign of disinformation and disparagement, culminating in a recent attempt to decertify a AFTRA daytime soap opera. As a result of this continued and ongoing behavior by SAG leadership, which at its core harms all working performers and the labor movement, we find ourselves unable to have any confidence in their ability to live up to the principles of partnership and union solidarity. AFTRA believes it must devote its full energies to working on behalf of performers, and not wasting time assessing whether our partner is being honest with us. With this in mind, the AFTRA National Board today voted overwhelmingly in favor of suspending Phase One, and negotiating the primetime television contract on our own. We are now prepared to move forward and negotiate a strong contract for our members as soon as possible. This action was taken in the hope that someday, the historic trust between these two organizations can be rebuilt – in the best interests of all performers."

SAG President Alan Rosenberg also released a statement, and sounded pissed:

"We remain focused on negotiating the best terms for actors covered by the TV Theatrical contract. We spent weeks working with our fellow actors in AFTRA on joint proposals to improve the lives of all working actors. AFTRA’s refusal now to bargain together and their last second abandonment of the joint process is calculated, cynical and serves the interests of their institution not its members."

Naturally, the AMPTP chimed in from the sidelines, since the Big Media companies have been watching with glee while AFTRA beats up on SAG:

"On February 14th, just after we concluded our agreement with the writers, we called for our negotiations with actors to begin promptly. Today we are pleased that to learn that AFTRA is also ready to begin talks immediately. We are determined, as we have always been, to work hard and bargain reasonably with the actors’ unions so that we can all avoid another harmful, unnecessary strike."

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