By Stephanie Ciccarelli
April 4, 2008
After an announcement late last week, it appears that the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) wants to suspend joint bargaining with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).
This may be the case for the current governing body of AFTRA but I heard straight from some heavy hitters that the move to suspend joint negotiations is not a decision representative of the entire body of membership, including individuals from the AFTRA Leadership Team who wish to see change, reconcile the differences between the two unions and hope for a merger.
Read this enlightening missive that debunks several myths and misinformation about what is going on behind the scenes from the perspective of working actor and current AFTRA National Board member, Los Angeles local member and LA's fourth vice president, Jason George.
Read this to help you research before making your decision at the vote.
Letter from Jason George
A bunch of you are asking me what's going on with SAG and AFTRA as well as wondering who you should vote for in the AFTRA re-run election.Â I'll start with the re-run election because it's a faster answer.Â
VOTE FOR THE AFTRA LEADERSHIP TEAM
I'm oneÂ of their candidates and I'm asking you to vote for me again.Â I'm also asking you toÂ go toÂ www.aftraleadershipteam.org, click on candidates, and print it out as a voter guide.Â They're people I trust and they represent every category of working actor from Series regulars to Guest Stars to Singers and Dancers to Stunts to Voice Overs and Sound recordings and Broadcasters to Background.
Do NOT vote for AFTRA Artists:
They are the people who in SAG go by the name Membership First and have torn our sister union apart and ruined our relationship with Agents.Â They are also directly responsible for the current division between AFTRA and SAG and are the peope with theirÂ foot on the gasÂ trying toÂ drive our union over a cliff called strike.Â I'm not afraid of a strike -- never have been -- but I believe it is a last resort whenÂ negotiating failsÂ not a presumption you make before you even go to the bargaining table.
Why a Re-run Election?
Also know that the Re-run election is happening because of some technicalities that the Dept. of Labor found, mostly dealing with a snafu in the original election's timing of when some members received their ballot and when ballots were due.Â They also wanted to firm up the means by which AFTRA LA guarantees representation to categories like singers and stunt performers.
It's important to note that the Dept of Labor found no merit in theÂ allegations brought by the members of AFTRA Artists/Membership First.Â In fact, no member's dues money is being used in this re-run.Â The tab is being picked up as a make-good for the aforementioned timing technicality.
Now to the suspension of joint negotiations between SAG and AFTRA
And it's important to note that word SUSPENSION because AFTRA wants to work with theÂ institution of SAG but the current leadership in Hollywood has made it impossible.
Here's the condensed list of grievances:
THEY TRIED TO RIG THE VOTE
All of the Proportionality and Block voting stuff in the past year was all an attempt to give the Hollywood division of SAG (ie Membership First) control of the votes on the Joint Negotiating Committee.Â To what end?Â To StrikeÂ when they want regardless what the rest of the members believe is most prudent.Â As I said, I've never been afraid of a strike but you have to give me the facts, show me the logic and let me have my vote.Â To rig the vote or doctor the information is completely usurping democracy.
THEY RAIDED AFTRA SHOWS
The #1 sin amongst all unions -- especially sister unions with shared jurisdiction -- is the raiding of shows to steal the contract. They tried to raid THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL -- a daytime soap that has always been pure AFTRA jurisdiction -- andÂ bring it under a SAG contract.Â This was latestÂ in a yearÂ long campaignÂ of SAGÂ attackingÂ AFTRA shows and attacking AFTRA as an institution.Â Yes, there is a difference of opinion in how to organize cable shows but AFTRA has always said that we should jointly negotiate cable as well.Â In other words, get in a room, debate the merits of the different cable organizing philosophies and vote.Â DEMOCRACY.
I feel confident that people will respond to the fact that SAG's method chases 50%Â of it's cable shows toÂ Canada while AFTRA's method keeps 85% of it's cable shows in the US.Â But cable is shared jurisdiction, daytime broadcast television is not. Â There has never been a conversation about Daytime dramas so the raiding of THE BOLD & THE BEAUTIFUL was way over the line by anybody's standards.Â The AFL-CIO has already gotten involved and made calls admonishing SAG and charges will be almost definitely be filed.Â Some of the SAG folks said "what if the soap drops the decertification and stays AFTRA?".Â Doesn't matter.Â If I'm doing business with you and while we're shaking hands you try to shoot me in the head, the fact that you missed and apologized won't stop me from suspending our business relationship.Â The bottom line is: How can you negotiate with a partner you fundamentally can't trust?
THEY PUT MEMBERS' LIVELIHOODS AT RISK
I believe the members on THE BOLD & THE BEAUTIFUL were used for political purposes by Membership First without ever being fully informed of the possible ramifications.Â If they decertifed the show to go under aÂ SAG contract it would take one to three years. Â During that time they would not be AFTRA or SAG, they would be on there own, at the mercy of the Studios & Networks with no union protections.Â Moreover, if SAG managed to become their union, SAG would have to renogotiate the contract minimums for the show from scratch.Â They couldn't use the AFTRA contract as a starting point.Â So they would have to use considerable leverage -- perhaps even a strike -- just to get back to the same minimums they had under AFTRA.Â Given the current state of Daytime Dramas, it's very possible they could get a worse deal.Â The fact that Membership First would put these folks at risk for political gain is unconscionable.Â The only thing worse would be is Membership First put these people in a dangerous position without knowing all the danger it put them in.
This isn't a game, it's people lives and livelihoods.Â Of course, this is all an attempt to get actors into one union, something I agree with wholeheartedly.Â But there's a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.Â The right way is called MERGER.
Getting a Good Contract in a Responsible Manner
All that said, I believe we will get a strong contract for the members.Â AFTRA's negotiating committee has folks on it like James Cromwell (Oscar winner), Tess Harper (Oscar nominee), Stephen Collins (7th Heaven), Morgan Fairchild, and myselfÂ just to name a few.Â We will get a good contract and we will get it in a responsible manner.
I also believe the Suspension of AFTRA and SAG's Joint Negotitation AgreementÂ is only temporary.Â I believe that membership will finally realize thatÂ in the last twenty seven years of peace between our unions andÂ between the unions andÂ agents, only the last four or five have beenÂ ridiculouslyÂ vitrolic.Â
What changed and destroyed the peace?
Membership First/Aftra Artists came into power.
VOTE AFTRA ARTISTS/MEMBERSHIP FIRST OUT OF OFFICE AND THE ATMOSPHERE WILL CHANGE
If anybody has any further questions about the re-run election or about the AFTRA-SAG controversies, please leave a comment and I'll try to answer any questions you have.
Hope it helps.
Thank you for reading,