Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Star Wars

#380 Star Wars

AFTRA: American Federation of Radio & Television Artists. A union representing radio and television performers, news men and women, some producers, some editors. Has jurisdiction over taped and live programs.

SAG: The Screen Actors Guild. A union representing television and motion picture leading and supporting performers. Has jurisdiction over filmed TV programs.

PUTZ: Producers United To Zcrewus, representing management and ownership.

PUTZ doesn't really exist, at least not officially or formally. I made that up. The rest of this is real. Many of us who are members of one of the legit organizations are members of both. But SAG's population is about twice that of AFTRA's. So, it's logical that since they represent about the same types of workers (a loose term, admittedly,) it's kind of natural that they negotiate agreements jointly.

In fact, there's been a move afoot for 30 years or so to merge the two unions into one. But what keeps happening is that SAG members approve merger and AFTRA members reject it. Thirty years ago, when the most recent wave of merger talks began to get teeth, your correspondent served on a minor committee exploring the mechanics and was a vigorous supporter of getting together. After all, went the reasoning, more members means more clout. Plus SAG is harder to join, those of us already in AFTRA would have an easy time of it (easy to the point of automatic,) and would thus benefit from increased work opportunities.

But over time, it seemed like the SAG folks were not trying to merge, but to acquire. And that made no sense, especially since AFTRA's Health and Welfare operation as it was then called, was solvent and SAG's wasn't.

Elected and hired leadership of both unions continued to favor and recommend approval. Hasn't yet happened. But all along, the two groups have negotiated their network contracts as one. Until now.

AFTRA withdrew from the coalition and is negotiating with PUTZ on its own. SAG is ballistic about that. And the net result could be that AFTRA negotiates a contract before the expiration and SAG doesn't, plunging TV back into the same morass as when the Writers Guild struck for something like 100 days.

This makes for difficulty.

Actors mostly based on the west coast are battling with actors mostly based on the east coast. Star Wars.

So, why should you, probably not a member of any of the three groups, care?

Because you remain glued to the tube.

And if this thing plays out wrong, you're going to be in for yet another seasons of useless and boring "reality" shows, fewer pilots, fewer scripted dramas, and endless re-runs and "Dateline" extras.

If PUTZ doesn't come up with a decent contract for both groups, it's going to take another big blow and heads will roll right off the corporate Gulfstreams. The writers will be back on the street. So will many of the stage hands, electricians, digital editors, catering truck operators and manufacturers of film.

You might be so bored with the "Law & Order" re-runs you might be tempted to vote for Fred Thompson if he should run for anything again.

And you might even have to (perish forbid!) read and converse.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2008

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