When Anderson Cooper tapes segments for 60 Minutes at the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan, he’s covered by a SAG-AFTRA contract. But when he drives across town to anchor Anderson Cooper 360 at CNN’s offices in Columbus Circle, he’s not. Patricia Richardson, who’s running for president of the actors union, wants to do something about that.
A self-described “news junkie,” Richardson said that if elected, she’ll try to organize the broadcast news networks that are not signed to the union’s contract, including biggies CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, CNBC and NBC News, which decertified from AFTRA nearly 10 years ago and whose anchors and correspondents are still not represented by a union.
“We need to fix this,” she told Deadline. “My goal would absolutely be to try to organize them. It’s better for the union and it’s better for them. We have so much to offer them and they have so much to bring to us.”
“Why is MSNBC not organized?” she asked. “That seems particularly surprising, given their politics.” She said she’d like to meet Rachel Maddow to discuss steps the union can take to bring MSNBC into the union fold. “I’d love to talk to her,” she said. “You think Rachel Maddow is anti-union? I doubt it.”
Richardson said the union should try to organize Fox News, as well. “Maybe it would be harder, given its politics, but we should still try,” she said. “Totally.”
The union doesn’t allow actors to work on non-union shows — they face expulsion if they’re caught — but broadcasters can work both sides of the fence without fear of discipline.
When SAG and AFTRA merged in 2012, the new union got AFTRA’s jurisdiction over network news anchors and correspondents, and what it inherited was a mess that three-and-a-half years later has still not been cleaned up. “When we merged with a union that allowed its members to work nonunion, we had to deal with those realities,” Richardson said.
SAG had long prohibited its members from working on non-union productions, but when it merged with AFTRA, the new union had to carve out a network news exception. If it hadn’t, broadcasters like Cooper would have been thrown out of the guild, as would the likes of Brian Williams, Bill O’Reilly, Chris Matthews, Wolf Blitzer and others who work not only as broadcasters but from time to time as actors, appearing as themselves in films shot under SAG-AFTRA contacts.
According to the union’s Global Rule One, “No member shall render any services or make an agreement to perform services for any employer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with the union, which is in full force and effect, in any jurisdiction in which there is a SAG-AFTRA national collective bargaining agreement in place. This provision applies worldwide.”
But because there is no “national collective bargaining agreement in place” for network news – CBS News and ABC News are the only major network news organizations covered by SAG-AFTRA contracts – this allowed Cooper to work for nonunion CNN and still work under the union’s contract on the movie Chappie; and for O’Reilly to work for nonunion Fox News and still work on Iron Man 2 and Transformers: Dark Of The Moon; and for Matthews to work for nonunion MSNBC and still work on House Of Cards; and for Williams to work for nonunion NBC News and still make his many appearances on 30 Rock.
“There is an obvious need for the AFTRA side to be as organized as the SAG side.” Richardson said. “A goal of mine and an interest of mine is to find out why we haven’t been able to organize MSNBC and CNN.”