It feels like Batman and Robin around here these days with dramatic twists and turns in union politics in the film and TV world. The latest is a real blockbuster. Earlier today the LA Times reported that S.A.G. was being accused of raiding AFTRA on the set of The Bold and Beautiful. The facts are far from clear but it seems some members of the cast of the long-running soap opera were able to get a sit down with Alan Rosenberg and Doug Allen, the top officials of the Guild, to discuss their interest in seeing the Guild replace AFTRA as the bargaining representative of the show. While the Guild confirms the meeting took place they say that they just referred the actors to AFTRA.
The Times reported: “After the actors aired their grievances, [Guild National Executive Director Doug] Allen said, he advised them ‘to go to AFTRA and have those conversations with them.'”
Really? That seems odd – the two absurdly busy executives of a national union take the time to meet with several actors only to tell them to talk to another union about their problems?
Of course, what they talked about is critical because the Guild and AFTRA are members of the AFL-CIO. Their legal right to represent actors is granted to them under a charter from that umbrella labor federation. And a central condition of keeping that charter is a commitment to abide by the “no raiding” provisions of the AFL-CIO constitution.
For example, Article II of that Constitution states that one of the principles of the AFL-CIO is:
“To preserve and maintain the integrity of each affiliated union by fostering respect for the established bargaining and work relationships of every other affiliate and providing that each affiliate shall refrain from raiding the established bargaining relationship of any other affiliate.“
Now, in light of that core principle, why even risk holding a meeting with the members of another AFL-CIO union and why do so on the eve of historically important joint contract negotiations with that sister union?
Sure enough once this news leaked, as the Hollywood Reporter reports tonight, AFTRA announced it is through with the joint “Phase One” negotiations with the Guild – a relationship that has been in existence since 1981 and was held together in recent weeks only with the intervention of the President of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney.
This, tragically, puts my Doomsday Scenario once again front and center: AFTRA goes its own way in the face of what it sees as Membership First intransigence; the Producers see a golden opportunity to break up the 25 year collaboration between the two unions; the AMPTP offers AFTRA a slightly better deal than they plan to offer the Guild; AFTRA signs and begins offering deals to producers, beginning a process of eating away at seventy years of S.A.G. dominance in the industry.
Of course, maybe I am wrong – and I certainly hope so. Maybe the brains at the heart of Membership First have a secret strategy here to win major gains for actors in the industry that far exceed those of the WGA, DGA and IA (which, by the way, is beginning its own 2009 (!) negotiations soon to lock in the same new media deal made by the above the line folks so far). Sadly, however, I am unable to convince myself that there is a such a secret strategy. Far more likely is that the admirable energy and militancy built up by many well intentioned Membership First members over the last decade (in the face of understandable concerns that the Guild leadership was not keeping up with the changing nature of the industry) will be dissipated by a “shoot from the hip” bare knuckles approach to the complex issues at hand.