Special committees of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Screen Actors Guild met in New York City this week for a four-day summit on "areas of mutual concern," including the contentious digital-jurisdiction issue.
The national presidents, John Connolly of AFTRA and Melissa Gilbert of SAG, led the two member committees assigned to improve relations between the unions. Senior staff also attended, as well as staffers from the AFL-CIO's Department for Professional Employees (DPE), who observed and facilitated the conversations.
"There is ample evidence supporting the need for performers' unions to cooperate and align themselves as our employers become more consolidated and more global," AFTRA National Executive Director Greg Hessinger and SAG Chief Executive Officer Bob Pisano said in a joint statement prior to the meetings. "We share more common areas than differences, and the interests of our members, a significant number of whom belong to both unions, continue to be our number one priority."
About one-quarter of AFTRA's 80,000 members also belong to SAG, which has 98,000 members.
The two unions traditionally have harbored separate jurisdictions over productions, with AFTRA controlling taped shows and commercials and SAG overseeing filmed projects. However, when the two unions agreed last year to their new feature film-TV agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, they didn't clarify jurisdiction over the growing area of digital production.
The problem came to a head this year over 10 digitally produced TV pilots that 20th Century Fox shot and contracted with AFTRA. In June, SAG's Pisano wrote both Fox and AFTRA arguing that the guild should have rights to residuals from those Fox pilot productions. He also connoted possible court action. That led Hessinger to say he hoped the two sides could negotiate a settlement, adding, "There is no denying the fact that when you have two unions with different contracts competing for the same work, employers do enjoy flexibility in limiting their costs, which is precisely why the current structure of two performers' unions makes no logical sense."
By September, AFTRA had released a statement saying it had reached "a harmonious agreement" with SAG and 20th Century Fox over jurisdiction of the pilots. The settlement was confidential, with AFTRA saying only that the trio had decided to "divide the programs on a case-by-case basis."
But at that time, Hessinger also added, "AFTRA reserves its rights under respective collective bargaining agreements, and in no way, through this agreement, concedes its rights in general within the digital jurisdiction."
Realizing the growth of, and value in, digital production—and with having to decide jurisdiction on a case-by-case basis with producers—the two unions obviously see the need for reaching a peaceful settlement.
Joining Connolly on AFTRA's Strategic Alliances Committee are former National President Shelby Scott, Los Angeles President Susan Boyd, New York President Anne Gartlan, national vice president Bob Edwards, and president Matt Kimbrough, and national board members Denny Delk, Roberta Reardon, and Tom Wiggin.
Aligned with Gilbert on SAG's AFTRA Relations Task Force are national board members Barbara Bosson, James Cromwell, Maureen Donnelly, John Fleming, Kevin Kilner, Anni Long, Mike Pniewski, and Mitch Ryan.