Hollywood's two major actors unions will negotiate their new labor contracts separately with studios in coming weeks after the TV actors union decided to suspend its long-time agreement with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), industry observers here said Sunday.
Board members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), which represents some 70,000 actors, singers, announcers and journalists in the industry, have voted over the weekend to sever the union's 27-year joint bargaining agreement with the 120,000-member SAG.
The move, not a total surprise given the rough relations between the two unions in recent years, ends a longstanding partnership between the two groups, known as Phase One, under which they had jointly bargained film and prime-time TV contracts for nearly three decades.
AFTRA officials told a SAG national board meeting Saturday their decision to terminate the Phase One agreement, and announced they would not negotiate jointly with SAG on behalf of the TV/Theatrical Contract, according to a SAG statement.
A rift between the two major unions could undermine the bigger union's leverage to squeeze the best possible concessions from the studios in its new contract as AFTRA pursues its own agenda on behalf of its members mostly working in television, observers said.
"We remain focused on negotiating the best terms for actors covered by the TV/Theatrical Contract," said SAG President Alan Rosenberg in the statement.
"AFTRA's refusal now to bargain together with us and their last-second abandonment of the joint process is calculated, cynical and may serve the interests of their institution, but not its members," he added.
Meanwhile, AFTRA officials called the SAG statement part of "a relentless campaign of misinformation."
SAG officials had hoped Saturday's meeting to set an early date for new contract negotiations, as Hollywood film and television actors' current three-year contract expires until June 30.
Many A-list actors like Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro had been pressing the union to start talks with studios immediately to avoid a potential strike like the recently ended writers' strike, which had cost the entertainment industry and local economy billions of dollars.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP),which represents major Hollywood studios and TV networks, issued a statement Saturday saying producers were pleased that AFTRA is ready to negotiate a new contract separately.
AMPTP said it called for the talks with actors to begin just after it concluded its agreement last month with the writers' union, which ended the over-100-day writers' strike.
"We are determined to work hard and bargain reasonably with the actors' unions so that we can all avoid another harmful, unnecessary strike," said the AMPTP statement.
The studios had invited the two actors' unions to jointly begin negotiations the first week of April and were awaiting a response from them to set a timeline, but AFTRA decided to terminate the joint bargaining just before Saturday's joint meeting between the two unions.
(Xinhua News Agency March 31,2008)