June 8, 2008 / 3:23 AM / 10 years ago

Leaders of No. 2 U.S. actors union OK TV contract

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Leaders of the second largest U.S. actors union ratified a tentative prime-time TV contract with Hollywood’s major studios on Saturday and recommended member approval, heightening tensions with the larger Screen Actors Guild.

The National Board of Directors of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFTRA, which represents 70,000 actors, also warned SAG, the No. 1 union, against any attempts to interfere with AFTRA’s membership vote.

Last month, AFTRA negotiators reached agreement with the studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The board vote on Saturday represented the last step before a full membership vote.

SAG remains embroiled in its own talks with the AMPTP over a new contract for its roughly 120,000 members. Since many actors are members of both organizations, lack of support for the AFTRA contract could be viewed as strengthening SAG’s hand in its attempt to get a better deal than AFTRA’s.

SAG, for the most part, represents film and TV actors in Hollywood, while AFTRA’s membership includes many daytime TV actors and radio performers.

The AFTRA deal has been viewed as putting pressure on SAG to accept a similar deal and avoid the threat of a possible actors’ strike when its contract expires on June 30.

Last November, the Writers Guild of America went on strike against studios, partly over Web-related issues. The 100-day work stoppage led to $2.5 billion in losses for the Los Angeles-area economy, according to the Milken Institute think tank, and Hollywood wants to avoid another strike.

The Hollywood actors’ labor talks deal with many of the same issues, including more pay when TV shows are sold in ancillary markets such as on DVDs and how much pay they will receive when their work is distributed on the Internet.

Payments for Web-related work when downloaded or streamed have been a major issue in recent labor negotiations between artists and the studios.

Two key points in the tentative three-year AFTRA contract include union jurisdiction over programs produced directly for the Internet, and new pay structures for Web downloads and ad-supported streaming, AFTRA said.

SAG’s national executive committee voted on Friday to launch an “educational campaign” that would oppose the AFTRA deal unless AFTRA delayed a full member vote on its contract until after SAG finished its current negotiations.

AFTRA said on Saturday that delaying its vote “would not be in the best interest of our members.” The ballot is expected to be mailed by mid-June with votes due three weeks later.

The AFTRA board also said it was “reserving judgment” on SAG’s attempts to “undermine the merits of our members’ tentative agreement and disrupt our ratification process.”

“We hope it will not be necessary to pursue legal remedies, but beware that we would view any attempt by SAG or its leadership to undermine or interfere with our ratification process as a violation of both the law and the AFL-CIO Constitution,” AFTRA said in its statement.

A SAG spokeswoman was not immediately available, but SAG has planned a membership “solidarity rally” on Monday at its Los Angeles headquarters to show support for its negotiators.

Editing by Peter Cooney

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