Although these negotiations are about actors’ future ability to make a living, especially in light of the fact, the method of delivery for employer’s product in the coming few years will most likely be the Internet. More, importantly, however, and mostly overlooked by most pundits, is the fact, that what truly is at stake here for actors is who will represent them in our new century.
On one side we have the Screen Actors Guild with its 75-year history of protecting actors, and being a thorn in the side of employers in order to get actors a fair deal.
On the other side, we have The American Federation of Radio and Television Artists with a history of representing radio actors, few and far between these days, actors who participate in television broadcasts done in a live manner, and a series of broadcasters including talk show hosts, news anchors, reporters, commentators, correspondents along with weathermen, and disc jockeys.
Until this decade, AFTRA leadership pretty much stayed on their own-turf. But, then, after they sold out actors for a half-a-million dollars to the ATA/NATR agents, giving them owner ship in productions, things changed dramatically.
Where as, AFTRA had limited its jurisdiction to game, variety, and kiddy shows on Nickelodeon, things changed dramatically, a few years back, when they began going after shows under SAG’s jurisdiction–that is, shows that were not done the manner of a live broadcast.
Most of these were scripted dramatic basic cable shows. A couple of years ago, AFTRA had only ONE of these shows.
And then they started offering companies like Disney, Lifetime, FX, TNT etc”deals” including inferior minimums and residual giveaways, in order to under cut the SAG rates already in place, and gain jurisdiction.
It worked. Now AFTRA has all but one of the basic cable half-hour dramatic shows and is edging up to an equal share of the hour-long dramatic shows.
But, now, AFTRA, agents, and producers have their eyes on an even bigger prize; Primetime Network Television.
Producers, of course, would prefer to negotiate with a compliant, multi-service union like AFTRA where actors’ demands can be subjugated by broadcasters and others whose only interests are to keep the wheels turning to pump money into their pension and health plans. This is borne out by AFTRA’s recent flyer to broadcasters urging them to vote in the current actors referendum, even if they have never worked the contract.
Agents, who have empowered the AFTRA Leadership, also, have a self-interest in shows going to AFTRA, because they will have ownership, and a revenue stream not available through the less complaint Screen Actors Guild.
So, the truly relevant issue in this time of peril for actors, is will they be sacrificed to the interests of agents, employers, and AFTRA, whose primary loyalty is to the organization controlled by the staffor will they be represented by a union with a proud 75 year history of looking out for actors. Will they be represented by AFTRA where their needs will be sacrificed for the expediency of their hodge-podge membership, or will they still be under the jurisdiction of the Screen Actors Guild whose only interest is providing the best possible deal for their actor members.
Don’t kid yourself, folks, if this AFTRA “Deal” with all its giveaways is passed, our employers will see it as a validation of AFTRA’s “go-along-to-get-along” attitudeand you’ll be seeing more and more shows go to AFTRA, and less and less residuals, and benefits coming to actors.
But, dollars are not the only things at stake here. Also, at stake, is democracy; the ability to vote in referendums and then be able to verify the results. The right of your elected representative to watch over hired staff to make sure everything they do is above board. And the right to see the contracts you work under, before you work under them, or audition for them.
As you will see in the following shocking letter from AFTRA to a new AFTRA board member, and friend of all actors who want a democratic union, Steve Barr, that will not be the case under AFTRA’s despotic leadership, where only three people out of a 59,000 membership have actually seen the results of AFTRA’s last Network Code referendum.
Here is the letter responding to Mr. Barr’s request for various pieces of information relating to his constituency.
I must say when I read this letter, it sent a chill through me, with all its legalize double talk designed to block a duly elected AFTRA director from getting information necessary to keep his constituency, both, informed and protected. To think that hired staff could so summarily reject all of his request is mind-boggling. To think that this is the kind of mentality that soon may, very well, be over most actors, is scary.
But, then, most actors will not find out until it’s too late, and that is indeed sad.
A.L. Miller SW Editor & Chief
*The names at the bottom of the AFTRA letter both from its author and those cc’d and bcc’d were redacted at the request of Mr. Barr, who stated that he wanted the spotlight to be on AFTRA’s policies, rather than personalities.
** Something very revealing in this letter is the fact that AFTRA has TWO PR firms. One of which is 42 West, which represents both AFTRA, and AFTRA number one supporter, Producer Tom Hanks, who has ten productions currently on the table…gosh, I wonder why, he wants this thing settled as quickly as possible and at the lowest rates possible?
Oh, and I, also wonder, who that other PR firm is. Well, Mr. Barr mostly likely will not find out in his capacity of board member, so perhaps, some other investigative soul will come up with the answer.
Oh, and a special message from your weatherman in Peoria.