Nick Counter has countered the announcement of a Guild-AFTRA split with an eager welcome to the start of bargaining with AFTRA. His press release made no mention of the Screen Actors Guild.
This, unfortunately, undermines the argument of some in Membership First who have argued that the suspension of Phase One joint bargaining by AFTRA (in response to alleged attempts by S.A.G. to decertify AFTRA representation of actors on The Bold and The Beautiful) would have no impact on how the AMPTP approaches the bargaining process. Far more likely, of course, is that the Producers will use this breach as an opportunity to offer AFTRA terms – such as jurisdiction over new media – that it will refuse to offer the Guild.
In light of AFL-CIO support of late for AFTRA (granting them recently their own charter) this might encourage AFTRA to claim sole jurisdiction over new media – arguing that it is a new uncharted environment that is open territory. Eager producers, particularly those backed up by the money flowing in from venture capital firms and elsewhere, might be happy to sign up to contracts to avoid labor strife. At a minimum, the AMPTP could grant AFTRA jurisdiction over content that is traditionally produced under their TV contract for material that then appears on the web while denying the Guild similar control.
Granted, this would be playing hard ball – but ask the WGA if they think the producers play hard ball.
Of course, it would seem that the Membership First controlled Guild board has finally achieved what it wished – control over the bargaining table for its contract. Under Phase One, both unions agreed to split seats on the negotiating committee – 13 for each side, with no block voting. That gave each side the ability to control how the other side negotiated terms in each of the contracts (one for TV and one for film). In theory that prevented a “race to the bottom” where one of the unions might have been tempted to offer softer terms than the other in order to win new contracts. Membership First has argued however that it also prevents a “race to the top” because AFTRA has in the past been willing to block more aggressive bargaining.
There may be some truth to this. But if AFTRA is, indeed, more moderate then there must be a dynamic inside AFTRA that allows that to take place. Since 40,000 Guild members are also AFTRA members (and are a majority of the 70,000 member AFTRA) one would think that there would be pressure inside AFTRA to take a tougher line in bargaining than in the past. For some reason, however, Membership First has not won the argument on the race to the top v. race to the bottom with those 40,000 card holders.
Now they will have a chance to prove themselves at the table for all to see. Perhaps they can succeed where others (the IA, WGA, DGA) have not. But to succeed they will have to convince the 40,000 dual card holders that they can, otherwise this will have proven to be a disastrous turn of events.