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Ad-ing It Up: SAG + AFTRA = Phase One (for Commercials)

Strikewatch_blog SAG took a small but significant step toward internal labor peace yesterday when it officially announced it would join AFTRA at the bargaining table for negotiations with advertisers on a new commercials agreement, which expires at the end of March.

The two sister unions, whose relationship has varied among strained, estranged, and hostile for more than a year, had agreed in principal several months ago to return to their longtime joint agreement, known as Phase One, for the commercials contract. Last night, SAG and AFTRA made it official in a news release with a statement from their national presidents, Alan Rosenberg and Roberta Reardon, respectively.

"We each greatly appreciated the opportunity to work together and with AFTRA National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth and SAG National Executive Director Doug Allen to fashion this binding agreement to negotiate jointly on behalf of our combined memberships who work in TV, radio, and Internet/new media commercials," they stated. "This important agreement between our two unions will better the lives of all performers."

The agreement, which was brokered by AFL-CIO consultant Peter S. DiCicco, includes pledges from each union not to disparage the other or raid the other's jurisdiction. It does not necessarily mean, however, a full return to Phase One for all contracts; that will be decided on a case-by-case basis, sources close to AFTRA said. It also does nothing to stop the battle within the guild, which remains divided over whether to fire Allen, its chief negotiator, and how to break the stalemate with producers over a new TV-and-film contract.

A year ago, Allen, Rosenberg, and Hollywood-based faction Membership First tried to alter the dynamics of Phase One by changing the voting rules, one of several steps they took that alienated AFTRA and guild moderates—board members from the New York and Regional Branch divisions, as well as a group in Hollywood that later became the faction Unite for Strength. Though Allen and Rosenberg eventually withdrew the bloc-voting proposal, it further strained the relationship between SAG and AFTRA, who have about 44,000 common members.

It broke in late March, when reports surfaced that Allen and Rosenberg had met with cast members of the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, an AFTRA-covered show. There were accusations of raiding, which the guild denied; the AFTRA board voted to suspend Phase One and negotiate a wholly separate broadcast prime-time TV contract with Hollywood producers, something the federation had not done for decades.

After AFTRA reached a tentative agreement with the AMPTP, SAG began a campaign urging dual cardholders in the guild to vote against it. The contract passed with 62 percent of the vote July 8. On July 9, Allen reached out to AFTRA to talk about returning to Phase One for the commercials agreement. Bargaining with advertisers and advertising agencies is scheduled to start Feb. 23. The contract expires March 31.

--Andrew Salomon

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