Fractious actors' unions expected to restore joint bargaining with studios
Hollywood's squabbling actors' unions appear to be ready to bury the hatchet.
It's been almost two years since the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists broke off its 27-year bargaining partnership with the larger Screen Actors Guild, with which it has clashed over contract goals and jurisdictional turf battles over TV shows, including an ugly tiff over the CBS soap "The Bold and The Beautiful."
But there has been a significant thaw in the frosty relations between the unions since a moderate coalition of actors consolidated their power on SAG's board and vowed to push toward an eventual merger of the unions. SAG's recently elected president, Ken Howard, made ending the feud a top priority of his successful campaign and has talked with AFTRA's President Roberta Reardon about ways of mending relations.
While a merger is not on the immediate horizon, representatives on both sides are paving the way toward restoring the longstanding so-called Phase One joint bargaining agreement, a necessary step before the unions can move toward consolidation, which remains unpopular among a significant group of actors in Hollywood.
To that end, on Sunday a key committee of AFTRA is expected to recommend to its national board that the union resume joint bargaining with SAG for prime-time TV contracts, people familiar with the meeting said.
If the boards of both unions agree to the idea, it would clear the way for joint early negotiations with the studios in October. Although SAG's two-year contract approved last April doesn't expire until June 2011, the sides agreed to begin early talks, by Oct. 1, for the next round of bargaining.
There is a complication: The timing would conflict with another contract -- covering actors who work in daytime television -- that AFTRA must negotiate by Nov. 15. AFTRA is expected to either accelerate those talks or seek an extension so that it can once again partner with SAG for prime-time TV negotiations.
The falling-out between the unions has been disastrous for SAG. It severely weakened its bargaining leverage in the last round of contract negotiations when AFTRA secured a separate deal a year before its sister union did. Parting ways also gave AFTRA an opportunity to secure the lion's share of contracts for prime-time TV pilots, an area that SAG had previously dominated.
That trend has continued for the current pilot season. Although it's still early in pilot season, AFTRA has already picked up contracts for 15 pilots for network prime-time shows this year and is on track to secure more than the 25 shows it covered last year.
Still, a restoration of "Phase One" is unlikely to end the source of friction between the unions, which still bargain separately in a number of other areas, such as video games and daytime television. Howard has made it clear that the ultimate goal is to have the unions merge so they can present a united front in dealings with the studios. AFTRA leaders also have expressed support for merging the unions.
The idea remains controversial with SAG, however. Opponents defeated previous merger attempts, fearing their union would lose its autonomy and that the unions have little in common. AFTRA's 70,000 members include not only actors, but also recording artists, disc jockeys and broadcasters. SAG represents 120,000 actors.
-- Richard Verrier
Photos: Top right: Ken Howard. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times. Bottom left: Roberta Reardon. Credit: Dan Johnson / AFTRA.