It’s unfortunate but negotiations between AFTRA and Telemundo have broken down! You see the “major stumbling block” is that AFTRA demanded residuals for all performers while Telemundo proposed to remove residuals from the bargaining table altogether.
Are you beginning to see a pattern here, folks. First, Pisano, Melissa, Connolly, and gang set a bad precedent by a form of residual giveaways on new shows in the TV/Theatrical Contract. Currently, they are trying to sway us into forgoing residuals in the Interactive Contract! And now Telemundo is balking at paying residuals to our Spanish-speaking brother and sister performers.
Others may call it the Domino Effect. Whatever you call it, it is only gonna get worse unless we get new leadership that our employers Respect! And we have all learned who gets respect in this town! And it ain’t the individuals who go-along to get-along! It’s those who have the power–and aren’t afraid to use it.
Hopefully, unlike what has happened to AFTRA, this whole thing ain’t gonna come back in the next Commercial Contract negotiations to, well, you know
In the meantime, on behalf of all Spanish language actors, we can only wish our AFTRA negotiators the best! Theirs is not an easy task! Especially with a slogan like “We have nothing to fear, ah, as long as they don’t read the trades!”
A.L. Miller SW Editor & Chief
AFTRA, Telemundo Negotiations Crumble
By Nicole Kristal
Telemundo, one of the nation’s largest Spanish-language networks, has ended negotiations with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. For more than six months, the network had participated in talks to unionize its entertainment programming. “It’s one thing to engage in hard bargaining. That is the norm. It is quite another to simply say we don’t have anything to talk about,” said Rebecca Rhine, assistant national executive director of AFTRA.
According to Rhine one of the major stumbling blocks during negotiations was residuals. AFTRA demanded residuals for all performers, while Telemundo proposed to remove residuals from the bargaining table altogether. The geographic areas of coverage also proved to be a point of contention. Telemundo apparently proposed that AFTRA exclusively cover Los Angeles, though many of Telemundo’s programs originate from Miami and other locations.
Also according to Rhine the network and AFTRA failed to agree on which programs would fall under the union umbrella. AFTRA wanted all entertainment programming, such as game shows and talk shows, to be included, while Telemundo agreed to union coverage only for performers in telenovelas or prime-time Spanish soap operas. According to AFTRA, Telemundo’s proposal also failed to include joint ventures, such as its production branch Telemundo-RTI.
“It’s problematic to have an agreement that doesn’t actually cover anything,” said Rhine.
Alfredo Richard, vice president of Corporate Communications for Telemundo, had a different perspective. “We are being portrayed or presented to the media as the bad guys by AFTRA, which is totally expected,” said Richard. “I think what’s going on here is the negotiation process. It’s like every other negotiation process, and the fact that we are not agreeing on some terms with [AFTRA] is being represented as if we are anti-union.”
Richard said talks with AFTRA failed because of the union’s inability to take into consideration the economics of Spanish-language television. According to Richard, the difference in market size and advertising revenue varies greatly compared with English-language television. “It’s like expecting the CEO of a repair shop in Milwaukee to make the same as the CEO of General Electric,” said Richard. “There are differences in terms of the economics that you’d need to take into account, and that’s all we’re saying to them.”
But Rhine said differences in market size were taken into account fully during negotiations with Telemundo. “We did not propose that they sign all the terms and conditions of the network code,” said Rhine. “We made proposals that were in line with our understanding of some of the economic realities of the Spanish-language television. We made counter-proposals based on their descriptions to us about their business model. We offered to take any information they were willing to give us and to create a model that worked, but we have certain industry standards, like residuals, that, yes, we were unwilling to agree to eliminate.”
But Richard contended that AFTRA did not care to address Spanish-language performers’ working conditions until 2002 and has waited until now to unionize because of Spanish-language television’s growing success. “I think what’s happening right now is that the demographic is becoming hotter,” said Richard. “People are paying more attention, and it’s potential revenue for organizations like AFTRA. What can I tell you? Everybody’s got to make a living. So those are potential memberships.”
Rhine denied Richard’s contention. “Their comment that we didn’t commit to Spanish-language performers until 2002 just simply is not true,” said Rhine.
Richard said Telemundo was unfairly targeted because of its affiliation with parent company NBC/Universal, a subsidiary of General Electric. Rhine said Telemundo’s linkage to NBC/Universal did initially attract AFTRA because of the union’s long-standing relationship with NBC that spans more than 50 years. (The union currently covers NBC English-language soap opera performers.) So in fall 2004, when an independent producer of the Spanish-language soap opera La Fuerza del Silencio, a Telemundo telenovela, began casting in Los Angeles, AFTRA saw an opportunity.
“The whole question of where we go first, whether it’s Univision or Telemundo or Galavision–to me that’s just simply irrelevant,” said Rhine. “Everything starts somewhere. The question is: Why shouldn’t NBC/Universal Telemundo be the first company to do the right thing?”
The production of La Fuerza moved to Dallas, Texas, to avoid union negotiations, according to AFTRA. When the union continued to press the issue, AFTRA hoped NBC/Universal would encourage Telemundo to unionize. When it failed to do so, AFTRA presented a letter at the GE shareholders meeting in May. At the time, AFTRA board member Jerry Velascl, former co-chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee, spoke with a friend at GE and persuaded him to use his influence to jump-start negotiations.
“[Telemundo was] saying that they came to talk to AFTRA to see how they could work it out–it’s not true. They were forced by GE because prior to that we had been trying for about a year and a half, and they refused to talk to us,” said Velascl, who participated in the Telemundo negotiations.
Rhine said Telemundo’s parent companies could have behaved more responsibly with regard to the negotiations. “I think they would prefer to keep their Spanish-language operations nonunion because it’s cheaper for them,” said Rhine. “I really believe that if they wanted to make a deal, they could make a deal.”
At press time, NBC/Universal had no response to Rhine’s statement.
Since Telemundo walked away from the bargaining table, AFTRA has accused the network of holding captive meetings with actors in Miami to discourage them from joining AFTRA.
Telemundo has denied forcing any employees into such gatherings. “What they said is that we had captive meetings and that we were doing anti-union propaganda, both of which are completely false,” said Richard. “We didn’t have captive meetings at all. There were some informational meetings [at which] actors came to us asking us for information about AFTRA. We held those, and it’s legal. We have the right to do that.”
Rhine said the Telemundo performers with whom she has spoken said they did not approach Telemundo management seeking more information about AFTRA. She said performers, however, received an anti-union leaflets intending to “mislead and misinform actors about AFTRA.”
In the leaflet, forwarded to Back Stage West by an AFTRA union organizer and translated by one of our staff members, Telemundo says, “We do not believe that representation of AFTRA will benefit you.” The memo also outlines the disadvantages of union membership, including dues and the possibility of a strike, and suggests that all employees refuse to sign any union cards or documents from AFTRA.
“It’s a garden variety anti-union campaign,” Rhine said of Telemundo’s actions.
Richard said the leaflet was distributed with a different purpose: to respond to printed material distributed to Telemundo employees by AFTRA in early June. “We felt it was appropriate to inform our employees about what it entails to sign a union card,” said Richard. “The other side of this is that they’re intending or pretending to represent people who haven’t even asked to be represented.”
Rhine said AFTRA is not pretending and has received reports from Telemundo actors of 12- to 15-hour workdays without dinner breaks or food being provided. Telemundo actors also told AFTRA they received insufficient rest days between shoots and no compensation for nonperformance-related work, such as fittings. In addition Telemundo actors apparently never received copies of contracts they signed. These actors have not spoken publicly against their employer.
“The fear of retaliation is quite extreme, especially in an industry that is predominantly nonunion where a lot of people are here on visas,” said Rhine.
SAG spokesperson Ilyanne Morden Kichaven noted that SAG has been monitoring AFTRA’s progress in unionizing Telemundo. SAG has also made efforts to address the issues of Spanish-language performers through its Florida branch.
AFTRA is currently investigating claims that Telemundo has threatened to move production work out of the United States because of the unionizing effort. Telemundo could be found in violation of the National Labor Relations Act if AFTRA proves that Telemundo attempted to obstruct workers’ ability to unionize. The act guarantees workers the right to join unions without fear of employer retaliation.
“At Telemundo we support our employees’ right to join and not to join a union. We would never impede our employees from pursuing their rights under federal labor law, nor act toward them in a manner that is unlawful,” said Richard.
Meanwhile, AFTRA is strategizing with politicians, community groups, and performers. “While we may have to take a beat to rethink, reassess, retool, reallocate, redirect, and reconfigure, one thing we are not going to do is retreat,” said AFTRA National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth.
Recently Te Amare en Silencio, a telenovela produced in Los Angeles under an AFTRA contract for Univision, aired in Mexico. Last week AFTRA received residual payments for the actors appearing on the show. AFTRA said these payments are the first of their kind and prove the feasibility of applying standard industry compensation structures to the medium of Spanish-language television.
“If the owner of Univision can do it, why can’t Telemundo do it, when NBC and GE own them? Why do they only want to make money and not share it with the people who are helping them get richer?” Velascl noted. “It’s not fair to these artists. They work hard. They have a dream, and they give it their all, and they don’t get compensated for what they’re worth. That’s wrong.”