LOS ANGELES AND NEW YORK (Oct. 1, 2011) — The National Board of Directors of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO – a national union of more than 70,000 recording artists, broadcasters and actors – met today by videoconference plenary in Los Angeles and New York, and unanimously voted to authorize the AFTRA Sound Recordings Negotiating Committee to take all actions necessary, up to and including proceeding to a strike authorization vote if needed, to secure an agreement with the major record labels.
Negotiations between AFTRA and representatives from Sony, UMG, Warner, EMI, Disney and most of their subsidiary labels for a successor agreement to the AFTRA National Code of Fair Practice for Sound Recordings, the Union’s second largest national contract, commenced in New York on Aug. 15, with an additional round of bargaining held in Los Angeles the week of Sept. 12-16. An additional bargaining date has been set for Oct. 5 in an effort to resolve outstanding issues. AFTRA National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth serves as Chief Negotiator for the Union.
The Sound Recordings Code covers singers, royalty and non-royalty artists, as well as announcers, actors, comedians, narrators and sound effects artists who work on recordings in all new and traditional media and all music formats, in addition to audiobooks, comedy albums and cast albums. The Code generates more than $140 million annually in AFTRA-covered earnings and benefits for both major artists and session singers around the country.
Board members also unanimously approved the appointment of the 2011 AFTRA Network Television Code Negotiating Committee. AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon will chair the 25-member committee and Hedgpeth will serve as Chief Negotiator for the Union. Negotiations with representatives for the four major television broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) and other producers are scheduled to commence on Nov. 7 in Los Angeles.
The AFTRA Network Television Code is the Union’s largest national collective bargaining agreement, and generates more than $300 million a year in member earnings. The Network Code covers programming in all television day parts, except for primetime dramatic programs on the networks and the CW. This includes dramas in first-run syndication, morning news shows, talk shows, serials (soap operas), variety, reality, contest and sports. Current programs covered by this contract include: “Good Morning America,” “The View,” “The Price is Right,” “General Hospital,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “The Voice,” “Survivor,” “20/20,” “Deal or No Deal,” “Late Show with David Letterman,” among many others.
“The Sound Recordings and Network Television Codes are AFTRA’s two largest and most mature contracts, and for more than 50 years, they have each provided thousands of AFTRA members with strong wages and important benefits,” said Hedgpeth. “But the traditional music, news and entertainment industries are changing rapidly, and the current and upcoming negotiations will provide a critical glimpse into the significant challenges that lie ahead in the 21st century and beyond.
“In order to prevail,” Hedgpeth continued, “professional union talent must stand together and organize themselves through their Union so that together they can secure strong contracts.”
Other business discussed at the Board’s final meeting of the year included a report on the One Union process, and a report on current negotiations with Prospect Park regarding the on-line productions of “One Life to Live” and “All My Children,” slated to commence in late 2011/early 2012.
National Treasurer and Los Angeles member Matthew Kimbrough told the Board that AFTRA has increased its budget for One Union-related expenses by another $115,000 to more than $1.5 million.
In her President’s Report, AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon updated Board members on the progress of One Union discussions with Screen Actors Guild. She observed: “The Labor Movement is facing tremendous challenges all across the country. Union density is declining in both the public and private sectors, and in mature and emerging industries alike. Performers and professionals who work in the entertainment and media industries are not immune from these challenges.
“This is why our work with Screen Actors Guild to build one new union for all of our members is so timely and so important,” continued Reardon. “We are building a bigger, stronger and more expansive union, both in terms of numbers and jurisdiction. The universe of work we cover has changed fundamentally, so this project is not just about our H&R benefits, and not just about two sets of dues. It’s about the industry and the future of the industry and how we stay unionized in the future.”
Phil Denniston, AFTRA National Director of Organizing, advised the Board that the new Organizing Incentive Fund Program, announced at the previous Board meeting in July, is now active and ready to receive applications from Locals. Denniston developed the program to provide AFTRA Locals additional support to continue building organizing programs to increase union density and job opportunities in local markets. A key feature of the program is an annual “matching fund” of $500,000 from the dedicated organizing revenue raised by the 2009 initiation fee increase. The Board today approved an oversight committee of members who will receive, review and approve all applications for matching funds.
Shelby Scott, Union Chair of the Trustees of the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds and AFTRA National Vice President, reported on the status of the AFTRA H&R Funds. The AFTRA H&R Trustees are next scheduled to meet in New York City next week.
Reardon was unanimously elected by the Board to serve as a Union representative on the AFTRA H&R Board of Trustees. Reardon replaces Kansas City actor Dean Vivian, who was elected as a Trustee at the May 14 meeting of the Board, but who subsequently had to step down due to work conflicts.
Longtime National Board member Mitchell McGuire has resigned from Board service after more than 20 years of service to AFTRA as New York Local and National Treasurer, and on many committees throughout the union. His resignation was accepted by the members of the National Board with expressions of gratitude for his years of dedicated and exemplary service to AFTRA members.
The National Board convened its meeting in the memory of more than 26 members who died since July, including New York recording artist Nick Ashford, newsperson Eleanor Mondale from the Twin Cities Local, Ernie Johnson, a sportscaster from Atlanta, actress Frances Bay from Los Angeles and actor Cliff Robertson from New York.
The AFTRA National Board will next meet by videoconference plenary in Los Angeles and New York on Jan. 21.