Watchdog Exclusive: 4A’s President Theo Bikel’s address to the 4A’s board on AFTRA’s Exit from the 4A’s.
The following is 4A’s President Theodor Bikel’s address to a meeting of the 4A’s Board.
4A’s Special Meeting 9/19/07
President Bikel addresses the Board
This Special Meeting was called in order to discuss a unique and unprecedented situation, a move by one of our major branches to disaffiliate from the 4A’s and seek direct affiliation with the AFL-CIO.
As most of you already know, the recent AFTRA Convention passed a resolution at a special session to effectuate such a change. Since its beginnings 70 years ago, AFTRA has been a Branch of the 4A’s. In the 88 years of the 4A’s existence, no Branch has ever before sought to withdraw or disaffiliate from the Associated Actors & Artistes of America. This alone mandates a discussion and examination of the consequences of such a move. The Chair will welcome a presentation by the AFTRA delegates to acquaint us with the reasoning behind their desire to leave the fold of the 4A’s. I hope that our discussion of the issue will enable us to formulate a position to be forwarded to President John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO so as to assist the Federation in dealing with this matter.
There are a number of questions I would like to pose to the AFTRA delegates, which I hope they will answer during their presentation.
1.The AFTRA Convention resolution states, inter alia, that one of the reasons for the proposed change is due to the fact that AFTRA has evolved from a union of actors working radio drama into a union of performers, recording artists, journalists and other media workers. The question then is: This has been true for a very long time and has not hampered the functioning of AFTRA within the ambit of the 4A’s. What has changed to create this impetus now
2.AFTRA states its desire to enter into ‘new cooperative and strategic relationships with unions directly affiliated with the AFL- CIO.”
Question: All the Branches of the 4A’s are perfectly free to do that now and, in fact, have done so on numerous occasions (either within the DPE or elsewhere, for example COBUG, the Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds.) Why seek to do something outside the 4A’s that you are free to engage in as a functioning Branch of the 4A’s?
3.The AFTRA resolution further states that it is taking this step in order to ‘maximize its ability to organize the unorganized. Question: Again, there is no hindrance to doing this for any affiliate of the 4A’s. On the contrary, it has always been encouraged.
4.If disputes should arise in the future between AFTRA and a Branch of the 4A’s, how do you envisage the mechanism of the AFL-CIO to be called into play? Article XX of the AFL-CIO’s Constitution covers settlement of disputes within the AFL. This article refers to disputes between affiliates of the Federation. AFTRA would be an affiliate but a Branch of the 4A’s would not be, since only the 4A’s itself is the affiliate. What rules would govern?
There are other issues that I hope you will address:
After 70 years of continuous membership you seek to disaffiliate. In light of your repeated assurances that this is intended as an amicable parting, more than a fleeting thought must have been given to what is liable to happen to the 4A’s itself once AFTRA leaves.
Since it is a virtual certainty that the 4A’s will be considerably weakened without AFTRA, would this be a responsible action vis-a- vis your colleagues in the rest of the field?
AFTRA is, and has been, an important arm of the 4A’s. As President l have always taken care to be attuned to the well being of every union under our umbrella and to insure that when problems arise they be dealt with fairly and impartially within the family. Whatever grave and momentous cause there may have been that impelled AFTRA to make such a move – and it must have been grave indeed – – no 4A’s mechanism of settlement was called upon, no solution sought in-house prior to the move to withdraw. This is puzzling. We have always insisted that whatever different interests there may be in play from time to time between our various factions, only we can solve them. We are labor unions but we are also creative artists. The language of labor may be spoken in many quarters; but no one outside of our family speaks our language, is familiar with what moves a performer, a singer, a broadcaster, no one knows our places of work and their discipline as we do.
Actually, it is not puzzling to anyone who truly knows all the facts. AFTRA wants to leave the 4A’s because under the 4A’s charter, issued to them and to which they are bound, the only jurisdiction they have over actors are for shows done in the manner of a LIVE BROADCAST. And since ALL of the basic cable shows they have been poaching from SAG, with their inferior contracts and residual giveaways, are NOT done in the manner of A LIVE BROADCAST, AFTRA hopes to circumvent the 4A’s jurisdictional charter–and thus try and muddy the waters on this issue by extricating themselves from the mandates of the 4 A’s.
You might want to picture for us – picture for yourselves – the modes of operation outside our ambit for a performers’ union, with a membership relatively small in number compared to the giant blue collar and white collar unions with members in the millions. True, they are all the house of labor, but often preoccupied with national politics, an area that our unions have declined to enter as a matter of principle. How do you think you will fare?
If the relationship between our unions in the past has been so flawed, then help us to understand whether the fault, dear Brutus, is in ourselves or whether it lies elsewhere, festering, but not easily to be spoken of
Unfortunately, in this case, Dear Brutus is so busy digging his knife deeper into actors backs, in order to empty their pockets into his purse, that he hasn’t got time to speak of much, except to espouse bogus reasons to justify his/AFTRA’s acrimonious actions.
Some additional thoughts This merits a frank airing of views that should preclude tiptoeing around the underlying causes for the crisis that we are facing. Two unions, AFTRA and SAG who operate in an arena that cries out for joint action, cooperation and a united front, have reached a point of strained relations.
Actually, under different AFTRA leadership in the late Nineties, SAG/AFTRA did cooperate in reaching an agreement, 99-CVR-17R, in which both sides basically agreed not to lowball the others contracts. This agreement has been trampled on by AFTRA in blindly following former AFTRA President John Connolly’s vision of AFTRA becoming the performers entertainment media leader in the Twenty First Century–no matter the cost to performers.
The two unions by rights should have merged because their areas of negotiation overlap so often and so closely. Such a merger that had been sought by the members and had been supported by many within the labor movement, notably the AFL-CIO, its President and others, myself included, came to naught for reasons we need not rehash here. Yet it is clear that, had the merger gone through, none of us would face the situation that has now arisen.
I’m sure we all appreciate Mr. Bikel’s personal feelings on merger, but they really have no place in addressing the current jurisdictional poaching problem SAG has with AFTRA, especially in light of the fact that the true arbiter of the merger question , the membership, has already spoken on this matter, TWICE, in referendum in the last decade.
As things stand, AFTRA who in the past has jointly operated with the Guild as equal partners vis-a-vis the employers, seems now to have been given a lesser place and voice at the table and in the caucus rooms.
Once again, I’m not sure were Mr. Bikel is getting his information, but one can certainly surmise it’s coming from someone at AFTRA. Unless, I missed something, no one has been given less, or more, of anything, since no understanding has yet been reached between SAG and AFTRA. Mr. Bikel’s concern that AFTRA would be given less than FIFTY PERCENT of a voice in negotiations of SAG’s Contracts, where in truth they are only observers, and have only TWO SHOWS, “Rules of Engagement” (CBS) and “Till Death” (Fox) that are in anyway effected by the outcome, is puzzling. Especially when he seems not the least bit concerned by the fact that SAG has absolutely no say in AFTRA’s Network Code contract which is being incorporated into AFTRA Basic Cable contracts to the detriment of actors forced to work under them. (AFTRA’s Network Code, with under five rates, that allows employers to work actors two days for the grand sum of $341 Dollars and day players for S711 dollars. Remember under AFTRA’s Network Code, the rates they quote are not DAY rates but SHOW rates.)
While none of this has been brought to us at the 4A’s, AFTRA no longer desires to remain in an organization where it out numbered by the larger and more powerful Guild. The fear has been expressed to me by AFTRA of the Guild invoking its numerical superiority should disputes arise; that fear seems to have been the overriding impetus for AFTRA’s desire to leave. Yet AFTRA will face much larger numbers within the AFL-CIO, even from the smaller affiliates with members in the many thousands. They may not be in the same field as we, but their numbers can easily brush off your problems making it plain that they have bigger fish to fry.
Like I said, earlier, they want out of the 4A’s in order to avoid a ruling of who has jurisdiction over basic cable scripted shows and network shows shot on digital.
Regarding the fear about SAG within the 4A’s; fears deal with the hypothetical and are thus made to be bigger and more threatening than they are in reality. Look at the history of jurisdictional disputes within the 4A’s and you will see that numbers had nothing to do with them. Two unions agree upon an arbitrator or a panel whose final adjudications are binding and not subject to ratification by the 4A’s Board. The losing party may not be very happy about the decision but there is no crisis.
The crisis AFTRA faces is that if they are no longer able to undercut SAG’s contracts, they are in a lot of trouble since they have no leverage over their broadcasters to unionize cable news networks like CNN, Fox News, CNBC, and MSNBC because these AFTRA broadcasters are working NON-UNION at these networks.
We also need to talk about a constitutional problem that concerns the charter AFTRA was granted. Each of the Branches exercises its jurisdiction pursuant to the Charter it holds from the 4A’s. In the history of this organization no Branch has ever left the fold. Two unions have ceased to function within my memory: APATE, the Associacion Puerto Riquena de Actores y Trabajadores del Espectaculo and the Hebrew Actors Union. In the former case, no other union took its place; the charter continues to be held by the 4A’s and may be granted in the future to a similar organization operating as a performers’ union in Puerto Rico. And recently, the Hebrew Actors Union was no longer operating in the service of its members. Its charter was withdrawn and granted to Actors’ Equity that now administers the jurisdiction formerly covered by HAU.
Our Constitution makes no provision for a Branch going its own way with the Charter in its pocket. If AFTRA’s move materializes ways need to be found to deal with the Charter question – after all AFTRA’s members are our colleagues and, whatever we may think of their impending move, our world too abhors a vacuum.
Translation, according to the 4A’s constitution, if AFTRA leaves the 4A’s it leaves its jurisdiction over actors on shows done in the manner of a live broadcast behind.
In all candor, this move by AFTRA may presage a further exodus by more unions from the 4A’s. Even if only one of the Branches should decide to leave, seek direct affiliation or become wholly independent, that would spell the end of the 4A’s.
In all candor, SAG has a charter from the 4A’s which gives it jurisdicition over all actors on television EXCEPT on shows that are done IN THE MANNER OF A LIVE BROADCASTand if Mr. Bikel and the 4A’s does not honor that charter SAG should leave the 4A’s immediately and do what it did in 1951 petition the 4A’s for elections to let actors in both SAG and AFTRA decide who they want to represent them on ALL shows on television. (The result would be the same has it was in 1951 actors overwhelmingly chose SAG .)
I am charged with looking out for the welfare of this organization, each of its Branches and by extension for each member of the Branches. I must express my apprehension about a possible future scenario where the larger of our unions, SAG and Equity, might apply for direct affiliation with the AFL-C10. Supposing they are accepted. What happens to the numerically smaller unions, AGMA, AGVA, and the Italian Actors Union? It is not at all certain that the AFL would even consider accepting them. Where is our concern for them?
In light of the very real danger of the 4A’s demise we must take stock of what this organization was and is, what caused it to come into being in the first place, what place it occupies in the panoply of the labor movement on the one hand and in the performing arts in the other.
Mr. Bikel’s concern seems to be with the organization, rather than the actors they actually represent. Perhaps, as I indicated earlier, it is because he has not been properly informed on exactly what is going on. Does, he know that AFTRA refuses to let its members see the very contracts they are working under. Does he know that AFTRA’s only organizing evolves offering producers contracts that undercut the standard already set by SAG. Does he know that AFTRA has already acceded to our employers the very things that the writers, with SAG’s support, are striking for. It’s time that someone from SAG gets him up to speed on what is really going on here.
The Associated Actors & Artistes of America came into being in 1921, 86 years ago. Even though at the time there existed very little other than live performing, there was a perceived need for an umbrella organization of and by performers. That need became far more evident with the advent of television, film and tape. This may have called for the existence of separate entities, separate unions and guilds; but the field needed to speak with one voice.
For close to nine decades the Associated Actors & Artistes of America has been the umbrella of the performers’ unions. It was often our only face to the outside. And, on the inside, we dealt with each other and our problems in a collegial manner as befits those who toil in the field of intellectual property, workers whose product is poetry, song, drama, dance, laughter and tears, purveyed to millions on stages and screens. But we are also laborers whose welfare in the workplace is in constant need of watchfulness. In the struggles against those who would exploit us we needed to be unified, not divided. And we still do.
The problem that the 4A’s needs to address NOW is to deal with AFTRA. It is a member to their organization and it is doing what the 4A’s is charged with stoppingthe exploitation of actors. Mr. Bikel needs to talk with actors, who have worked these lowball AFTRA contracts thinking they were the same as SAG’s contracts, only to find out later that they would not receive any residuals the first year. Ask them if they feel exploited.
It may be that the 4A’s has outlived its usefulness. If so, show us a better alternative. Division and dispersion are hardly likely to be the alternative to solidarity and to the regard for the common good. I have stated repeatedly that the 4A’s can and should go out of business because there should in its place be one union of performers just as there is in Great Britain, a union whose subdivisions by discipline function perfectly well and give no employer a chance to play them off against each other. Then, yes, then, we should cease to exist because there would be no need for us to exist. I shall be honored to preside over any merger of performers’ unions, some, or all of them. I am not prepared to preside over a process of dissolution.
The only thing to be done is this instance is for the 4A’s to live up to its obligation and make a decision concerning a charter that it issued to both unions delineating their jurisdictions. We are not talking rocket science her. The charter is extremely clear on the jurisdiction for both SAG and AFTRA.
Now let’s take a closer look at the jurisdiction awarded SAG.
As is clearly spelled out, jurisdiction over ALL ACTORS employed in the motion picture field, including without limitation, all motion pictures produced for television. (A Motion picture as defined by both the SAG and AFTRA contracts, include all pictures that move, including feature motion pictures, TV dramas, sitcoms, short films, etc)
Now, let’s look at what was left for the TVA. (Later to merge with AFTRA, to put the T for live Television in AFTRA.)
As you can see, the jurisdiction over programs done in the manner of A LIVE BROADCAST was not award to AFTRA but rather the TVA which later merged with AFRA to become AFTRA. That T in AFTRA is for television broadcast in the MANNER OF A LIVE BROADCAST. AFTRA’s only jurisdiction claim is to those types of LIVE BROADCAST. This is the important issue at hand to actors. Mr. Bikel should use the process available to the 4A’s to make an IMMEDIATE ruling on who has jurisdiction over those basic cable shows in dispute. The threat to actor’s livelihoods increases every day that no action is taken on this matter, as AFTRA accelerates its poaching of SAG’s shows and actors residuals.
The course of Federation approval of this move may involve more than simply taking in a new Affiliate. Because in this case, it would also mean diminishing the rights, jurisdictions and prerogatives vested in an existing affiliate, the 4A’s. That, under Article III of the AFL-CIO Constitution, might necessitate a two-thirds roll call vote at an AFI-C10 convention. Whether or not this is called for here has yet to be determined. First, however, each of our Branches has to be heard on this matter and so has the 4A’s as a whole. It is clear that a move of such potentially momentous consequences must not be dealt with precipitously and in haste.
While on the subject of constitutional requirements we must be satisfied that the process of AFTRA’s withdrawal from the 4A’s was in conformity with the 4A’s Constitution. Article XV Sec 3 of our constitution requires two steps from a Branch seeking to withdraw voluntarily. 1) Adoption by its Governing Board and
2) a three quarters vote of the members present at a special meeting called for the express purpose of considering the question of withdrawal.
We were informed that the special meeting was held during AFTRA’s recent Convention. I trust that there was proper notice given in the call to the special meeting, a notice outlining the proposed action so as to give members and the leadership a chance to prepare pros and cons. The numbers reported clearly met the requirements for withdrawal but the proceedings had to have been conducted in pursuance of proper notice.
Mr. Bikel’s trust is betrayed, for in this case AFTRA gave no notice, but rather blindsided the AFTRA delegates without warning. Whether, AFTRA is allowed to leave the 4A’s is not of great concern to actors, but what is of concern is that which I referred to earlier. Is the 4A’s going to step up to the plate and give a ruling on the Charter it issued to SAG and AFTRA. If it does it honestly and quickly there will be no need for the great union Mr. Bikel invisions since all actors on scripted TV dramas will be under one jurisdiction, SAG’S–except for that rare moment when a show is done in THE MANNER OF A LIVE BROADCAST. Perhaps, if AFTRA records a LIVE BROADWAY SHOW…but then Equity might take issue with that. And then it would be up to the 4A’s to decide, if indeed it chooses to do its job.
A.L. Miller SW Editor & Chief