Just as the Screen Actors Guild and its smaller sister union American Federation of Television and Radio Artists are jointly preparing to face off against the studios in upcoming contract negotiations, the two actors groups are embroiled in a behind-the-scenes soap opera -- over a soap opera.
The latest episode in the long-standing turf wars between SAG and AFTRA erupted among the cast of the classic CBS daytime drama “The Bold and the Beautiful.”
For more than 50 years, AFTRA has negotiated contracts for daytime soaps. But AFTRA accuses the leadership of SAG of encroaching on its territory in an attempt to gain jurisdiction of the show. They view it as an effort by SAG to increase its power.
“This is an ongoing campaign by the Screen Actors Guild since last year to discredit AFTRA,” said Roberta Reardon, president of AFTRA. “It’s very clear they’ve tried to take this union apart.”
Doug Allen, national executive director of SAG, rejects AFTRA’s claims and says his union has no designs on organizing daytime dramas. “We’re not raiding AFTRA, and the suggestion we are is inaccurate,” he said.
The flare-up around “Bold and Beautiful” comes at a delicate time for both unions. Today, the joint board of AFTRA and SAG is meeting to approve the bargaining proposals that will be presented to the studios in their upcoming negotiations. The unions are expected to seek, among other things, higher pay for their members in the area of new media. If all goes well, the unions are likely to begin talks with the studios by mid-April.
But SAG and AFTRA, which historically have had an uneasy alliance, have been feuding for the last year over the terms of their 27-year joint bargaining pact and other issues.
SAG has been looking to change the terms of the partnership. The bigger union, which has 120,000 members compared with AFTRA’S 70,000, objects to equal voting rights in the agreement even though SAG actors account for most of the earnings.
The Hatfields and McCoys-like sniping got so out of hand that John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, met with leaders of both guilds and urged them to resolve their differences before starting negotiations with the studios. The AFL-CIO, to which both SAG and AFTRA belong, bars unions from raiding each other.
The latest skirmish is now occurring on the set of “The Bold and the Beautiful,” the second-highest-rated daytime drama. AFTRA officials are furious that Allen and SAG President Alan Rosenberg held a private meeting with two actors from the show at which the cast members complained bitterly about AFTRA representation.
After the actors aired their grievances, Allen said, he advised them “to go to AFTRA and have those conversations with them.”
AFTRA officials were upset at SAG for not telling them about the meeting until two weeks after the fact, according to Reardon.
Allen dismissed the concern, saying “I don’t know why SAG is being held accountable for complaints by AFTRA members about AFTRA.”
The early March meeting was requested by the “Bold” actors, including Susan Flannery, who plays the matriarch of the fashion dynasty at the center of the show. Flannery, a regular on “Bold” since its inception in 1987, is leading an effort to decertify AFTRA as the union representing the actors on the series by circulating a petition, AFTRA officials said.
The petition would have to be submitted to the National Labor Relations Board, which would hold a secret ballot if it were signed by at least 30% of the employees.
Flannery and other cast members believe they would earn better pay and benefits under SAG. Flannery, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.
That doesn’t sit well with some high-profile AFTRA members, who say the show would be weakened if it came under another union’s jurisdiction.
“If they raided this show and other shows it would be a disaster,” said veteran soap star Don Hastings, who plays Dr. Bob Hughes on “As the World Turns.” He said SAG has no experience negotiating daytime contracts, which would put the show in jeopardy at a time when audiences for soaps are declining and the networks are cutting budgets.
Both Reardon and Allen say they agree on one thing: Their unions need to be well prepared to jointly negotiate a new contract with the studios. But Reardon says SAG’s actions do not always suggest unanimity. “How can we be expected to sit side-by-side in a joint negotiation with a union that is actively raiding us?”
Allen says AFTRA’s concerns are unfounded. The two unions, he said, just completed two days of “productive and successful” meetings to finalize their joint proposals.
“It was an example of union solidarity.”