Actors Approve Joint Talks
compiled by Jeff Burman
In a hopeful sign, the national board of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) has voted to approve joint negotiations with the Screen Actors Guild. SAG’s national board returned the favor a few weeks later, two years after AFTRA split off bitterly from its sister union and both negotiated separately, writes Dave McNary in Variety. The two had parted ways after conflicts over jurisdiction and strategy.
SAG and AFTRA’s contracts with the producers expire June 30, 2011. The next step for the unions will be to set “wages and working conditions” meetings to settle on how the bargaining proposal should be crafted. AFTRA may need to seek an extension on its network code deal, which expires November 15 and covers TV work outside primetime dramas and comedies, such as game shows, talk shows and daytime dramas, adds McNary.
AFTRA noted that an 18-month-old “no-raiding, non-disparagement” agreement, brokered by the AFL-CIO to keep the damaged relationship from getting worse, would remain in effect.
SAG has about 120,000 members and AFTRA 70,000, with about 45,000 actors holding dual memberships. The two performers unions have shared jurisdiction in primetime TV shows that are shot digitally. Many new shows have opted for less costly AFTRA deals in recent years.
© Bill Schorr Courtesy of Cagle Cartoons
Elsewhere in Hollywood, union leaders and company executives are quietly consulting colleagues, reviewing data and thinking carefully about difficulties that are likely to be revisited when labor and management begin fresh negotiations less than a year from now, writes Michael Cieply in The New York Times.
On May 1, 2011, three-year contracts with the Writers Guild of America, West and East will end. Then, on June 30, contracts will expire for the Directors Guild of America, as well as SAG and AFTRA. The IATSE contract expires August 1, 2012.
Guild Adds Field Rep
Please welcome Ann Hadsell to the Guild’s staff. She started as a Field Representative in the Los Angeles office on April 26, filling the vacancy left after Jim Saunders’ retirement. Hadsell worked as an ADR mixer and recordist at independent sound houses, as well as the studios, on dozens of features and television shows. She also served as shop steward at Todd-AO for a period of 15 years.
Both her background in the post-production sound crafts and her experience as a shop steward made her uniquely qualified for the position. “I think she will be a valuable part of the team here at the Guild,” said Cathy Repola, the Guild’s Assistant Executive Director in LA. “I know she has a passion for this industry and for her colleagues, as well as an understanding of the challenges the members face.”
Hadsell looks forward to this new phase of her career. She sees this position as a way “to give back” and considers it “a great honor to serve the membership of the union.”
AFL-CIO Backs Media Piracy Fight
Hollywood’s fight against piracy has received the official backing of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, which has stressed that theft of intellectual property leads to loss of income and job losses.
The AFL-CIO, which includes SAG, AFTRA, the WGA East (but not WGA West) and the IATSE issued an unanimous endorsement of a statement offering a detailed analysis of the harm done to US workers by piracy. “Motion pictures, television, sound recordings and other entertainment are a vibrant part of the US economy. They yield one of its few remaining trade surpluses. The online theft of copyrighted works and the sale of illegal CDs and DVDs threaten the vitality of US entertainment and thus its working people.”
IATSE International President Matt Loeb, a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, said, “This is a strong statement of support from the AFL-CIO in our fight against the theft of product upon which the members of the entertainment industry unions and guilds depend. We will continue to pursue every avenue we can to stop digital theft.”
The AFL-CIO noted that feature film piracy results in an estimated $5.5 billion in lost wages annually, and the loss of an estimated 141,030 jobs that would otherwise have been created.
Most of the revenue that supports entertainment professionals’ jobs and benefits comes from the sale of recorded entertainment, including sales in secondary markets––that is, DVD and CD sales, legitimate downloads, royalties and, in the case of TV shows or films, repeated airings on free cable or premium pay television. Roughly 75 percent of a motion picture’s revenues come after the initial theatrical release, and more than 50 percent of scripted television production revenues are generated after the first run.
It is critical, at this important moment in the evolution of the Internet and “new media” policy, for union members and leaders to publicly and visibly engage in a sustained effort to protect members’ livelihoods, the creation and innovation that are the hallmark of their work, and the economic health and viability of the creative industries in this country.
Former AFL-CIO Officer Wins Primary for Texas Lieutenant Governor
Linda Chavez-Thompson, a former executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, won the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor of Texas. Chavez-Thompson won with 53 percent of the vote. She will face incumbent Republican Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in November.
“I’m humbled to have won the Democratic primary without a run-off,” Chavez-Thompson said in a statement. “On the other hand, our job is just beginning as we take our message to independent voters, frustrated voters and working families.” In 1995, Chavez-Thompson became the first person of color to be elected to one of the federation’s three highest offices. Since her retirement in 2007, Chavez-Thompson has continued to champion workers’ rights in her role as head of the Inter-American Regional Organization of Workers, the International Trade Union Confederation’s regional organization for the Americas.
Union Pushes for Its Own Jobs Plan
The AFL-CIO is pushing for a jobs package far bigger than the $15 billion bill the Senate passed earlier in the year, writes Chris Maher in The Wall Street Journal. It would be funded in part through a tax on securities transactions.
The AFL-CIO says the plan could generate more than $100 billion a year and also help pay down the deficit. The campaign for the jobs program will try to direct voter anger at the government’s bank bailouts. The union federation plans to emphasize the billions of dollars banks received in bailout funds, while unemployment remains stubbornly at 9.7 percent.
Two bills were introduced in Decem-ber that would create a similar tax. The bills would impose a tax of 0.25 of a percentage point on trades of more than $100,000––or $250 on a $100,000 transaction––explains Maher. The AFL-CIO plan would tax a small fraction of that amount. It would be aimed at taxing investors and institutions that make numerous securities trades and would aim to shield average investors by exempting the first $100,000 in transactions and certain funds.
Corporate Profits Climb, Despite Recession
Used with the permission of Bill McBride and www.calculatedriskblog.com
According to Commerce Department figures, pre-tax profits rose eight percent to a seasonally adjusted $1.5 trillion annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2009, compared to the third quarter, writes Sara Murray in The Wall Street Journal.
The increase in profits, which isn’t adjusted for inflation, followed a 10.8 percent increase in the third quarter. Profits were fueled by an increase in output, as companies filled inventories, with little change in wage and benefit costs. The combination pushed pre-tax profits 30.6 percent higher than a year earlier––the biggest increase in 25 years. For the full year of 2009, profits were down 3.8 percent from 2008.
In the fourth quarter, companies’ profits from domestic operations climbed $124.7 billion, while profits outside the US dropped $16.1 billion.
Facebook Fears: Labor Law and Social Networking
Many employers know that it is against the law to spy on employees who are engaged in union organizing activity, write John Polley, Anne Zorn and Jennifer Will in the UK journal Labour and Employment. As unions start to use social networking sites like Facebook to organize workers, employers are becoming aware that the same rules that have prohibited spying on union activity may also be applied to spying on Internet-based union organizing activity.
“Surveillance” of union organizing activity has long constituted a violation of section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act, add Polley, Zorn and Will. That section makes it unlawful to interfere with, restrain or coerce an employee with respect to the employee’s right to form, join or assist a labor union. The National Labor Relations Board has held for decades that spying on lawful organizational activity interferes with the right to unionize because employees may reasonably fear that their employer may retaliate against union supporters.
Increasingly, unions are using social media sites such as Facebook to unionize. If a union or an unhappy employee creates a website as part of an effort to unionize a company’s workers, would it be lawful for the company’s employees to look at the site to see what co-workers are unhappy about? The answer is not clear at this point. But, there is case law that at least suggests what the answers are likely to be, state Polley, Zorn and Will.
It is against the law for an employer to listen to private conversations between employees and their union representatives. (NLRB v. Unbelievable, Inc. 71 F.3d 1434.) Further, at least one labor case (Konop v. Hawaiian Airlines, Inc., 302 F.3d 868, 872) shows that an employer’s unauthorized “eavesdropping” on an employee-maintained website that encouraged the employee’s co-workers to seek representation by an alternative union is also unlawful.
The Guild’s Paul Moore, left, with José R. Peralta. Photo by Alvin R. Peters
Guild’s Moore Honored
Editors Guild East Coast Assistant Executive Director Paul G. Moore was presented with an award by the Ne York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators at its third annual Labor Luncheon February 13 in Albany, New York.
The award recognized the Guild’s work to increase diversity in post-production in New York’s film industry. The luncheon’s Master of Ceremonies was then New York State Assemblyman (now Senator) José R. Peralta (D-Queens).
A month later, on March 9, Moore spoke at a press conference in the State Capitol’s lobby announcing post-production tax credits as part of the New York Production Tax Incentives program.
“By implementing a film and television post-production tax credit, New York State is uniquely positioned to create thousands of new jobs and set free hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity,” Moore said in his address. “To be certain, New York State has a robust film and television post-production industry. Unfortu-nately, we are undervaluing this segment of the film industry’s capacity to do more––more jobs, more infrastructure and more opportunities.
“Along with my colleagues from the post-production facilities, we have the capacity and talent to take on more projects,” he continued.
“Additionally, we are prepared to work with the SUNY and CUNY film programs to help further diversify the post-production community. Therefore, we applaud the Conference of Black State Senators for its support of this important segment of the motion picture industry.”
In Konop, a pilot for Hawaiian Airlines created and maintained a website on which he posted bulletins that were critical of his employer and their union. He made posts encouraging other pilots to consider switching union representation. The posts on the website were private. Konop only allowed pilots and other employees of the airline to log on. The terms and conditions of the site prohibited management from viewing the website and prohibited users from disclosing the website’s contents to persons who were not also members.
Undeterred, add Polley, Zorn and Will, the employer’s vice president asked co-workers of Konop to use their names to access Konop’s website. The co-workers agreed, and the vice president accessed the site using their names. The vice president then complained to officials of the incumbent union about Konop’s postings. The head of the incumbent union in turn called Konop, telling him that the vice president had accessed his website and took issue with the comments posted there.
Konop sued his employer. The Ninth Circuit stated that, “There is no dispute that Konop’s website publication would ordinarily constitute protected union organizing activity...” The Ninth Circuit went on to state: “Absent a legitimate justification, employers are generally prohibited from engaging in surveillance of union organizing activities. The reason for this general proscription is that employer surveillance ‘tends to create fear among employees of future reprisal’ and, thus, ‘chills an employee’s freedom to exercise’ his rights under federal labor law... We see no principled distinction between the employer’s eavesdropping in Unbelievable [cited above] and Hawaiian’s access of Konop’s secure web site.” (Konop, 302 F.3d at 884.)
Jeff Burman represents Sound Editors on the Guild’s Board of Directors. He can be reached at email@example.com.