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AFTRA Forms Subcommittee to Examine Joint Talks

Group will render recommendation on whether to combine its primetime negotiations with SAG

AFTRA and SAG aren’t merged yet, or negotiating jointly with the studios and networks for that matter, but a small step toward that end was taken Sunday.

Incremental progress was made when a high-level cabinet within the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the so-called Strategy Cabinet, agreed to form a subcommittee to examine the possibility of jointly negotiating the guild’s primetime TV contract in October along with the Screen Actors Guild.

The subcommittee has been mandated to make a report and recommendation to the AFTRA National Board at its next meeting Feb. 27.

Should joint negotiations occur, they would comprise a first step toward possible merger of the two talent guilds, a move vocally supported by recently elected SAG national president Ken Howard.

SAG’s current two-year contract, approved last April, doesn’t expire until spring 2011, but the guild and the studios have agreed to start negotiations on the next deal early, on Oct. 1.

For its part, AFTRA is scheduled to begin negotiations on a new "Networks Code" deal (i.e., daytime, late-night, sports, news and other shows not covered its primetime TV contract) after Labor Day.

This would present a timing conflict, should AFTRA officials agree to merge their primetime negotiations with SAG, and it’s a key complication the subcommittee will examine before reporting to the AFTRA National Board in February.

In any case, while merger has always been a polarizing topic among the SAG constituency, Howard and his administration view it as vital.

With the guilds bitterly feuding in recent years, and AFTRA negotiating ahead of SAG on its last primetime deal, SAG saw its leverage significantly weakened. AFTRA, meanwhile, has seen its constituency swell.

Not only does AFTRA’s networks deal cover 70 percent of all non-primetime programming, the guild now covers the majority of 8 p.m.-11 p.m. shows, too.