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AFTRA, SAG Seek Members' Approval for Commercials Deal

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The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Screen Actors Guild will send ballots to members April 30 seeking ratification of the proposed commercials contract that union negotiators forged with advertisers earlier this month. AFTRA's and SAG's approximately 150,000 commercial performers will receive ballots; about 45,000 dual cardholders will receive one ballot each. A simple majority of yes votes is required for passage. The ballots will be tallied May 21.

The contract, which was unanimously approved recently by the unions' national boards, should pass easily, because both warring camps within SAG—the self-described moderates and the hard-liners in Membership First—support it.

"I think it's fantastic," said Anne-Marie Johnson, SAG's 1st national vice president and spokeswoman for Membership First. "Yeah, obviously there are some drawbacks, but a great negotiation is when both parties finalize it and walk away not so sad and not so happy."

This time last year, the two unions—longtime negotiating partners—were bargaining separately with Hollywood producers. In late May, AFTRA struck its own network prime-time TV deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. SAG, which was led at the time by Membership First, launched a monthlong campaign to defeat the contract, but AFTRA members approved it anyway. AFTRA and SAG then agreed to patch up their differences and jointly negotiate the commercials contract.

If the deal passes, it might signal a new era of relative harmony, or it could be an anomaly.

In elections held in September 2008, Membership First lost control of the national board to the moderates, who have asserted what they view as a more conciliatory agenda. Over the winter, they fired national executive director Doug Allen, who many saw as a divisive figure inside and outside guild headquarters, and replaced him with interim national executive director David White and chief negotiator John T. McGuire. Since then, White and McGuire have reached a tentative deal with TV and film producers, which SAG's national board narrowly approved April 19.

There is no word as to when that contract will be sent to the rank and file for approval. A simple majority is required for passage, but Membership First partisans plan to urge members to vote against it. Perhaps to counteract the dissenters, SAG leadership has hired a Los Angeles–based public relations firm, Saylor Co., to help persuade members to approve the contract, Variety reported.

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