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UPDATE: Tonight I received the news that AFTRA national president Roberta Reardon and officers robertareardon.jpgincluding 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.

bb-flannery.JPGThe 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. sag-leaders.JPGWhen 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, and its penchant for lousy one-time-only pacts, 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.”

Finally, very late Saturday night, Reardon sent this email signed “in solidarity” to AFTRA members:

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March 29, 2008

Dear AFTRA Member,

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.

AFTRA recently became aware that leaders of SAG have involved themselves in a campaign to encourage cast members on the CBS daytime drama “The Bold and the Beautiful” to decertify AFTRA as their union. The people leading this drive apparently believe that decertifying AFTRA would further the goal of having one union for all actors. In fact, it would do the opposite. If successful, it would leave the performers on “The Bold and the Beautiful” stripped of any union representation and uncovered by any union contract. This situation is sadly not surprising given SAG Hollywood leadership’s ongoing campaign of misinformation to disparage AFTRA.

The truth is that the existing AFTRA contract for daytime series provides players with strong provisions regarding crediting, overtime rates, and vacation days. Year after year, AFTRA has consistently won raises and improvements for daytime players—despite the efforts of networks and producers to cut costs at daytime serials. A vote to decertify would strip the cast of “The Bold and the Beautiful” of all these hard-fought gains. To achieve anything close to what the AFTRA contract offers, the cast would have to negotiate from scratch—perhaps even strike—without the support of performers covered by the Network TV Code.

The involvement of SAG leaders in the effort to remove AFTRA from a show covered by an AFTRA contract violates all norms of union solidarity. But this most recent situation, along with the continued and ongoing behavior by SAG Hollywood leadership, which harms all working performers and the labor movement, forced us to confront on the eve of negotiations the very painful question: how could we sit beside SAG at the bargaining table at the same time that its leaders in Hollywood are conspiring to undermine the gains we’ve achieved for all performers?

AFTRA’s leadership believes that our union must devote its energies first and foremost to working on behalf of performers, and not waste any more 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 –suspension rather than termination — was taken with the understanding that many among SAG’s leadership are as troubled by the events that have led us to this point as we are, and in the hope that someday, the historic trust between these two organizations can be rebuilt – in the best interests of all performers.


Meanwhile, here are all my recent SAG-AFTRA stories:

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