AFTRA, majors agree on deal, Pact must be ratified by members

Posted: Wed., May 28, 2008, 6:43am PT

By DAVE MCNARYThe majors and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have signed a primetime deal that will ease — but not eliminate — the town’s fears of an actors strike.
Following nine consecutive days of negotiations, AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers reached a tentative three-year agreement early Wednesday at AMPTP headquarters in Encino.The new pact must be approved by AFTRA’s national board and ratified by its members. It covers about a dozen shows including “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Rules of Engagement,” “Flight of the Conchords,” “Dante’s Cove,” “Til Death” and “Reaper” plus new sitcoms “Project Gary,” “Harper’s Island” and “Roman’s Empire.”
The deal includes new media provisions similar to those in the DGA and WGA deals covering programs streamed over the web and downloads of TV shows along with setting the same thresholds for coverage of made-for-the-internet programs. As with the director and writer deals, the AFTRA pact did not include any gains in DVD residuals.

And AFTRA also said the pact retains actors’ consent over online use of clips, an issue that had emerged as a dominant concern at the negotiations. Both SAG and AFTRA had opposed the AMPTP’s proposal that actors agree to drop the consent requirement for online clips; the companies had contended that the change was essential in order to establish a viable business model that could compete with the massive levels of pirated clips on the web.

AFTRA said the pact calls for it and the companies to “develop a mechanism” by which performers can provide or withhold consent for non-promotional use of clips from TV libraries. For programs produced after July 1, companies can bargain for consent for the right to use clips at the time of original employment.

“This is another groundbreaking agreement for AFTRA,” said AFTRA national president Roberta Reardon in a statement. “In addition to achieving meaningful gains in compensation and working conditions for performers, it also establishes AFTRA jurisdiction in the dynamic area of new media and it preserves performers’ consent for use of excerpts of traditional TV shows in new media.

“This is a challenging time in the entertainment industry and this was a tough negotiation,” she said. “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 AFTRA deal came with the Screen Actors Guild set to resume negotiations this morning after a three-week recess for the AFTRA talks. SAG’s feature-primetime contract expires June 30 and the lack of resolution of the guild’s deal had unnerved Hollywood with studios refusing to greenlight features until a new contract’s signed.

In a reflection of the poor relations between SAG and AFTRA, guild president Alan Rosenberg issued a muted reaction to the deal Wednesday morning.

“The Screen Actors Guild negotiating committee and staff will thoroughly analyze and evaluate the principles of a tentative AFTRA deal with the AMPTP,” he said. “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.”

He noted that SAG’s talks with the AMPTP would launch at 10 a.m. as planned and added, “We remain committed to negotiating the best possible terms for actors for all motion pictures and the vast majority of television programs, pay TV and new media formats.”

SAG negotiated with the majors for three weeks but the AMPTP recessed the talks on May 6 over the guild’s objections. SAG insisted that it was near a deal at that point but it’s subsequently revealed that major gaps remain on half a dozen issues.

Most notably, the AFTRA deal sets a template for SAG to follow, much as the DGA deal in January set the parameters for the WGA agreement earlier this year. AFTRA’s been operating in previously unknown territory by negotiating the primetime deal on its own for the first time in three decades following a bitter break-up with SAG.

But it’s uncertain whether SAG will follow the terms of the new AFTRA pact, given the deeply troubled relationship between the performers unions. AFTRA split from joint negotiations in late March following a bitter jurisdictional dispute over “The Bold and the Beautiful,” while SAG’s repeatedly accused AFTRA of signing cable deals at lower initial terms.

AFTRA also spurned SAG’s two-pronged request May 6 to either step aside for a third time or go back to joint bargaining.

Much of the AFTRA and SAG negotiations have been devoted to a single issue — the companies’ proposal that actors agree to drop the consent requirement for online clips — and momentum has stalled on small details in recent sessions.

Many labor observers had expected the AFTRA talks, which launched May 7, to wrap before this week. But AFTRA took a tough stance on the clips issue — mirroring SAG’s position.

Rosenberg sent a message to members late Tuesday, reiterating that gaps remain on key issues including clip consent, DVD residuals, product integration, force majeure and jurisdiction over low-budget projects for the web. And in a sign of ongoing bad blood, he complained that SAG observers had only been allowed to attend six of AFTRA’s negotiating sessions with the AMPTP — none over the past week.

SAG leaders have insisted they don’t want to strike and have not asked members for strike authorization. Such a move would require 75% support among those casting ballots.

AFTRA also said its new deal improves minimums by 3.5% in the first year, 3% in the second and 3.5% in the third. Its also boosts employer contributions to the AFTRA Health and Retirement plan by 0.5% to 15%.

The pact also increases the number of covered background actors in Los Angeles; secures rest provisions for background performers in Los Angeles; and improves terms and conditions for performers who work under the CW contract.

“We appreciate the support we received from the Hollywood labor community, and we wish our brothers and sisters in the Screen Actors Guild the very best as they resume their own contract talks,” Reardon said.

AFTRA said details of the new agreement will be submitted to the AFTRA National Board at meetings scheduled for June 6-7 in Los Angeles. If approved by that panel, the pact will be submitted to AFTRA’s membership for ratification.

The AMPTP issued a statement noting that the new deal’s the fourth it’s negotiated this year following the DGA and WGA pacts along with AFTRA’s network code agreement, which covers non-primetime.

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,” the org said. “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 AMPTP’s statement also took a hopeful tone about the SAG talks, saying, “We now look forward to the resumption of talks with SAG, to building on the foundation laid during our first round of SAG talks, and to reaching an agreement that will prevent another harmful and unnecessary strike.”