AFTRA contract votes due today


Rather than a worker vs. management labor battle, what’s been happening lately in Hollywood has been a worker vs. worker labor battle. We should learn late today or tomorrow if the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) has succeeded in its effort to derail the contract that rival American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) struck with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTA). SAG claims the AFTRA deal shortchanges its members and that both unions should hold out for a better deal from the studios. “Don’t be suckered into a strike” AFTRA warned in a communication with its members, touting the deal as one that puts “real money in actor’s wallets.”

No matter what the outcome of the AFTRA vote, the rift between the unions will not be mended. AFTRA told members that, contrary to claims by SAG, a no vote is a vote for a strike. And AFTRA leadership ruled out any return to joint negotiations with SAG on a deal with AMPTA.

What’s at stake in today’s vote? Wachovia analyst Marci Ryvicker conducted a conference call last week with Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney with experience on both sides of Hollywood labor negotiations.

“Mr. Handel sees three different scenarios that could occur depending on the outcome – 1) If AFTRA members ratify the deal by a large margin, SAG will most likely be forced to accept the offer from AMPTP (Mr. Handel sees this as the most likely outcome). 2) If AFTRA rejects the studio deal by a large margin, SAG will probably call for a strike authorization vote.  To orchestrate this would take several weeks, therefore a strike likely wouldn’t occur until the end of July. 3) If AFTRA members approve the deal by a slim margin, SAG leaders would probably continue negotiations but a strike authorization vote is less certain.  Given these three scenarios, it doesn’t sound like this dispute will be resolved until the end of July at the earliest,” Ryvicker reported to clients.

Meanwhile, SAG and AMPTA met last Wednesday after AMPTA presented what it said was its “final offer” modeled after the AFTRA agreement. AMPTA said it met with SAG representatives for four hours to answer questions about that offer and that it expects some response from the union today. “We remain hopeful that SAG will advise that it is accepting our final offer,” the studios said in a statement.

That hopefulness was not reflected in SAG’s statement. “Guild negotiators and staff will further analyze and review the AMPTP’s responses over the next several days in order to prepare a response to management’s proposal,” it said.

RBR/TVBR observation: Broadcasters will no doubt breath a sigh of relief if the AFTRA pact is approved. While movie production has wound down, production of TV series for the fall season has thus far been pretty much unaffected. That could change if the AFTRA contract is voted down by a large margin, essentially putting the more radical elements in charge of directing the union.