The message below went out from AFTRA’s leadership to its membership just now. In my opinion, it sure looks as if the union is preparing members for a major cave-in on the clips issue. But I must say that hiding behind a Los Angeles Times opinion piece is ridiculous to the extreme. When it comes to clips and their use and compensation for actors, the issue is not so much the Internet but the fact that the studios and networks want to make free and unfettered use of clips for any purpose, including commercial entertainment compilations for which only their Big Media companies would benefit financially. SAG recognizes that any breach in the wall around clips is a disaster. There is no way actors should cave on this just so retiring AMPTP prez Nick Counter can have a last hurrah at their expense.

May 25, 2008
Dear AFTRA Member:

For more than two weeks, your Primetime Negotiating Committee has been working hard to achieve significant gains in wages and working conditions for AFTRA members who work under our contract covering primetime network dramatic programs (Exhibit A of the AFTRA Network Television Code). Here is where things currently stand.

Our talks with the employers have been both constructive and productive, and your committee remains committed to reaching a fair agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). To that end, I can report that we are prepared to bargain continuously, for as long as it takes, including working straight through the Memorial Day Weekend.

Based on our experience in this year’s AFTRA Network Code talks — as well as that of the DGA and WGA in their respective negotiations earlier in the year — we went into this round of collective bargaining knowing we would be confronted with some very challenging issues. This is why we felt it was so important for negotiations over actors’ contracts to begin sooner rather than later, and why we worked so hard to make that happen.

It’s also why we are taking a business-like approach to negotiations. We face a formidable adversary across the table. While we appreciate the challenges the companies face as a result of new technology and fragmenting audiences, our concern is performers’ well-being. Your committee is smart and well-educated about both the issues we’re confronting and what we’re dealing with. So ignore the grandstanding rhetoric — your committee understands what is at stake. We all depend on these contracts for our livelihoods, and your committee is completely focused on improving them and the lives of all working performers.

In this spirit, I want to note that the AFTRA Negotiating Committee is grateful for the input of SAG staff observers, and the other union observers, all of whom were extended the same invitation and courtesy that the SAG Negotiating Committee extended to the AFTRA observers during the SAG talks. We also intend to brief SAG on our talks with the AMPTP before SAG resumes its negotiations with employers.

Your committee’s priority is to get the best possible contract that protects actors. As I’ve mentioned in previous updates, in addition to seeking improvements in compensation, coverage, and health and retirement benefits, we are also confronting a number of tough challenges involving New Media. Because many of the issues we face in this area are completely unprecedented — most notably, the knotty problem of clip consent — we are trying to think out of the box in order to reach pragmatic resolutions. An editorial in Friday’s Los Angeles Times noted that rather than recoiling from new technology, the entire industry must seize the opportunities presented by the Internet. The Times suggested that performers need to “focus as much on protecting income streams as images, because the latter is simply beyond their control in the Internet era. That doesn’t mean giving carte blanche to any use of clips. But it does mean shifting from a self-protective crouch into a more market-oriented stance.” To this end, AFTRA is focused on working with employers to find a creative solution that will protect our members’ images while at the same time encouraging the growth of the new market.

On a final note, I want to report that AFTRA members ratified the Sound Recordings Code on Friday. This national contract covers royalty artists and session singers who work with more than 1,200 recording companies, including the four major labels — EMI, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, and Warner — and most of their subsidiary labels. The agreement is a great step forward for AFTRA recording artists and singers as it provides increased compensation and benefits for recordings in both physical and digital formats.

I am hopeful that we will soon reach a similarly groundbreaking agreement for primetime that will once again include significant gains for working performers.

In solidarity,
ROBERTA REARDON
AFTRA National President