Wednesday, June 11, 2008

AFTRA Board OKs New Contract

The group decides not to delay ratification of the the deal, despite SAG's request.

From the Associated Press

Leaders of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists approved a new contract with Hollywood studios that grants actors more money for Internet work -- an issue that sparked a crippling writers' strike earlier this year.

AFTRA's board approved the three-year deal late Friday and it will go to the union's 70,000 members for ratification later this month, the union announced Saturday. The existing contract was set to end June 30.

The agreement makes sense for all performers, AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon said in the statement. AFTRA members now have the opportunity to vote yes for higher pay, improved working conditions, and continued right of consent for use of excerpts in New Media.

The deal covers only a handful of prime-time TV shows, including HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, the CBS drama Rules of Engagement, and ABC's Cashmere Mafia.

AFTRA's voting members earlier gave 93-percent approval to a separate contract deal for the majority of TV shows it represents, including Oprah and Entertainment Tonight.

The AFTRA agreement largely followed a script laid out in contracts approved by directors in January and by writers after their 100-day strike ended in February.

The deal established higher fees for downloaded content and residual payments for ad-supported streams and clips. It also sets a 90-day deadline after ratification for developing a system for actors to consent to the online use of clips containing their images or voices.

The agreement also called for increase base pay, health and retirement benefits and overtime pay.

The 120,000-member Screen Actors Guild, which is the larger and more combative of Hollywood's two actor unions, is still negotiating with the studios. SAG had pushed for more concessions by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and still has the power to shut down film production.

The two unions had agreed to the same starting proposals but took different tacks with the studios -- the first time they had negotiated separately for the first time in 27 years. Some 44,000 actors are members of both unions.

In March, AFTRA accused SAG of trying to entice actors in the soap drama The Bold and The Beautiful to abandon the federation and said it was in the best interests of our members to deal with the studios on its own.

AFTRA began its own negotiations on May 7 after SAG temporarily suspended its studio talks. AFTRA's board gave tentative approval to the contract on May 28 -- and hours later, SAG returned to the bargaining table.

In its statement Saturday, AFTRA said its board rejected a SAG request to delay ratification of the new contract until SAG concluded its own negotiations. AFTRA's board also warned that it might pursue legal remedies if SAG tried to "undermine or interfere with our ratification process."

A call to a SAG spokeswoman seeking comment was not immediately returned Saturday.

SAG president Alan Rosenberg has insisted that his union would push for a better deal. In a message to members May 27, he said the guild would still fight to increase payments for DVD appearances in the form of pension and health care contributions.

Rosenberg said the guild would also push to give actors a say regarding product endorsements in scripted scenes and argue for jurisdiction to cover projects created for the Internet, even those with low budgets.

Both AFTRA and SAG had said they wanted to avoid a repeat of the 110-day writers strike that ended in February. That walkout shut down production on dozens of TV shows and cost the Los Angeles area economy an estimated $2.5 billion.

Pressure for a speedy resolution came from A-list actors such as Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro, who took out ads in trade publications in March calling for talks to start months ahead of the June 30 contract expiration date.

The possibility of a strike sent some film producers rushing to finish shooting or delaying projects for fear they would be shut down before filming was complete.

SAG reached separate deals that cleared the way for more than 300 independent productions to raise financing and start work. The agreements called for those companies to abide retroactively by the long-term contract eventually reached with the major studios.

SAG represents actors in movies, TV and other media. The TV and radio federation represents, among others, actors, singers, announcers and journalists.

Hollywood studios, AFTRA reach deal

The agreement, modeled on a deal with directors, puts pressure on SAG to come to terms. Preservation of performers' control over use of film clips is a key point.

By Richard Verrier and Claudia Eller, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

The new contract struck between the Hollywood studios and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists achieved across-the-board gains for actors, especially for journeyman performers who have seen their incomes squeezed in recent years.

But it is not clear if those gains will be sufficient to mollify leaders of the larger Screen Actors Guild, which resumed negotiations with the studios on Wednesday.

AFTRA's tentative accord, addressing bread-and-butter economic issues, includes a 13% hike in minimum pay for guest stars and other major role performers. It also doubles the pay actors receive from movies and TV shows sold online and establishes payments for programs that are streamed online.

If its members ratify the agreement, AFTRA would become the second Hollywood union to accept a deal based on the contract negotiated by the directors guild in January. That would probably make it harder for SAG -- which represents the overwhelming majority of performers in prime-time TV and all of those in studio feature films -- to argue that its members deserve significantly better terms.

This is a challenging time in the entertainment industry, and this was a tough negotiation, said AFTRA President Roberta Reardon. Our ability to achieve these crucial breakthroughs for performers was a direct result of [our] pragmatic approach to collective bargaining.

Reardon's comments appeared intended to underline the differences between the smaller union -- whose members also include musicians, radio announcers and daytime television actors -- and SAG, which has taken a more aggressive posture in negotiations with the studios.

The two labor groups, after squabbling over turf issues, recently ended a 27-year partnership under which they negotiated with the studios jointly. AFTRA was able to wrap up its negotiations in just three weeks, modeling its agreement on a pact that settled the writers strike earlier this year. The writers' deal was based on the contract the Directors Guild of America negotiated.

SAG officials declined to comment on the AFTRA agreement, saying they hadn't seen details yet. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios at the bargaining table, said the parties found a way to fairly and sensibly tailor our industry's new media framework to meet the needs of actors.

Although AFTRA's accord falls short of satisfying some of SAG's key demands, it could still help the larger union craft a deal that would avoid a strike this summer.

In preparation for a possible walkout, the studios have effectively stopped green lighting films that can't wrap production by June 30, when SAG's contract expires.

Notably, AFTRA said it preserved actors' right of consent over the use of non-promotional video clips, a power they have had since 1960. The studios argued in earlier negotiations with SAG that the consent rule would impede their ability to build an online market for their library of programming because it is cumbersome to administer.

But AFTRA and the studios think they have hit a workable solution. They agreed to devise a system under which, for example, the studios would be able to obtain consent to use clips of an actor's work covering an entire TV series rather than negotiate for each individual clip.

Others provisions of AFTRA's new contract will not go down so well with SAG. AFTRA did not achieve an increase in the decades-old -- and, the union contends, outdated -- formula that governs residual payments from the sale of home video such as DVDs.

On the other hand, the union did make strides in setting up rules covering shows created for the Web. Although still in its infancy, online entertainment is expected to grow rapidly and actors fear that the studios will hire nonunion labor to fill many roles.

The new AFTRA contract extends the union's jurisdiction to programming created for the Internet in cases in which a show costs more than $15,000 a minute to produce, or when producers hire a covered actor who meets certain criteria, such as having two credits.

The issue has been among the sticking points in talks that broke off this month between SAG and the studios.

AFTRA has 70,000 members, of which 44,000 also belong to the 122,000-member SAG. The smaller union's jurisdiction does not include feature films and covers only a handful of prime-time TV shows, such as CBS Rules of Engagement and HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm.

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