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AFTRA, Producers Reach Tentative Deal

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists reached a tentative three-year deal with studio and network producers early this morning on a new network prime-time television contract, earning increases in minimum pay for major roles and maintaining consent rights over the use of program clips on the Internet.

Strikewatch_blog With the deal, which still needs approval from the union's national board and ratification by the rank and file, the chance of a strike by actors this summer grows more remote. However, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers still must reach an agreement with the Screen Actors Guild. Talks--which broke off May 6, largely over the clips issue and other points related to new media--resumed today at 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific.

"This is a challenging time in the entertainment industry and this was a tough negotiation," AFTRA national president Roberta Reardon said in a statement. "Our ability to achieve these crucial breakthroughs for performers was a direct result of AFTRA members' pragmatic approach to collective bargaining. We recognized the hard realities currently affecting the traditional TV business and we focused on creating a framework that would allow union members to participate fully in the emerging new media marketplace."

The AMPTP issued a release that stated in part: "Both AMPTP and AFTRA were challenged during these talks to find a way to fairly and sensibly tailor our industry's new media framework to meet the needs of actors. As a result of compromise and creativity by both parties, we reached an agreement that makes the new-media framework work for all actors."

The clips issue was a major sticking point in AFTRA's talks with the AMPTP, as it was with SAG. Producers had wanted actors to give up their right to consent to the use of clips in nonpromotional ways via new media, because the AMPTP sees the sale of clips as a possible new revenue stream. But neither union would budge on this issue. In the AFTRA deal, both sides agreed to "develop a mechanism" by which actors can grant consent for the use of existing material. For new material created on or after July 1, producers can bargain for actors' consent rights at the time performers are originally hired.

"It was really a difficult and unforseen problem," Reardon told Strike Watch in an interview. "We knew there were areas where we were going to have to push hard, but clips wasn't on the list."

Asked if the phrase "develop a mechanism" was essentially a way to table the issue to get the larger deal done, Reardon said, "I think that's pretty fair."

She added that the two sides "struggled mightily" to reach a compromise, and examined several different approaches.  "We needed to give both sides a certain amount of time to think only about that," Reardon said. "But to give up consent was crazy.... We've given ourselves time to be serious about the issue, to focus solely on that."

As for other new media issues, AFTRA received deals similar to those won by the writers' and directors' guilds, including jurisdiction in work created specifically for the Internet and other emerging technologies. It also earned increases in base pay of 3.5 percent, 3 percent, and 3.5 percent in each year of the deal, and improvements for background actors.

This is the first time in nearly 30 years that AFTRA negotiated its network prime-time TV contract without SAG. The longtime negotiating partners went their separate ways in late March when AFTRA's national board voted to suspend Phase One, the unions' joint bargaining agreement, in part because of allegations that the guild tried to gain jurisdiction over the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. But that flare-up over a longtime AFTRA property was a minuscule portion of a feud that involves jurisdictional battles in basic cable and vast differences in organizing and negotiating philosophies.

Asked if AFTRA would want to return to Phase One for negotiations on a new joint Commercials Contract, which expires near the end of October, Reardon said: "It's quite possible that if we felt there was a mutual trust we'd be interested in doing that." 

However, according to statements SAG national president Alan Rosenberg has made within the past few days, a climate of trust does not seem to exist currently. According to Variety, he sent an email to members stating that AFTRA had kept SAG's observers out of talks during the final days. As for AFTRA's deal today, he stated in a news release:

"The Screen Actors Guild negotiating committee and staff will thoroughly analyze and evaluate the principles of a tentative AFTRA deal with the AMPTP.  We look forward to receiving an update from AFTRA staff regarding the negotiations as soon as possible. We look forward to hearing more during a face-to-face briefing with AFTRA’s negotiating committee as soon as AFTRA provides the opportunity."

Asked about the exclusion of SAG's observer, Reardon told Strike Watch that AFTRA wanted to conduct many of its new-media discussions off-the-record, meaning no union observers were allowed, including those for IATSE, the WGA, and the DGA. Other union observers were also excluded from executive sessions of the negotiating board, she added, which is standard practice, something SAG did during its negotiations with producers, which ran from April 15-May 6 before they broke off.

Reardon added that SAG chose to conduct its new-media discussions on the record, but it also "did handle an overwhelming majority those talks in sidebar [i.e., in private]. It's being spun to make it look like we strong-armed them" out of the room.

--Andrew Salomon

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Thank you for letting us know! I can't tell you how happy I am about this!

Thank you for letting us know! I can't tell you how happy I am about this!

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