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Unionization vote may resolve Telemundo's dispute with SAG-AFTRA

Unionization vote may resolve Telemundo's dispute with SAG-AFTRA
SAG-AFTRA said the vote is set to take place from Feb. 7 to March 8. Above, the union's president, Gabrielle Carteris. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The long-running dispute between Telemundo and SAG-AFTRA over whether actors for the Spanish-language broadcaster can unionize could see a conclusion by March.

Hollywood's largest union announced Monday that a vote is set to take place to decide the fate of the network's thousands of performers who appear in popular telenovelas and other programs.

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SAG-AFTRA said the vote, which is set to occur sometime between Feb. 7 and March 8, will be administered by the National Labor Relations Board. The union called for a vote last month in a petition to the independent federal agency.

Telemundo, based in Miami, ranks among the largest Spanish-language broadcasters in the U.S. NBCUniversal acquired the company in 2001.

"We are proud of the success we have achieved together with our talent through the direct relationship we have enjoyed with them," Telemundo said in a statement. "Since SAG-AFTRA first approached us about a year ago, we have invited them to ask for a National Labor Relations Board election. We are pleased the union now has done this, so that our talent will be able to make a decision for themselves on whether to be represented."

Telemundo said that it has created "hundreds of high-value jobs for Spanish-language talent" and remains "committed to making Telemundo a great place to work for them and all our employees."

SAG-AFTRA has fought for years with NBCUniversal, contending that the company maintains a double standard by allowing its English-language performers to unionize while refusing the same right to Spanish-speaking actors.

"This vote is about equity, fairness and the fundamental rights of Spanish-speaking actors in this industry and in our country," SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said in statement.

The union has asserted that Telemundo pays its performers half of what English-language actors earn on other NBCUniversal-owned networks, and that Telemundo doesn't provide its telenovela actors healthcare, contribute to their pensions, or pay standard overtime.

SAG-AFTRA's campaign began when NBCUniversal acquired Telemundo more than 15 years ago. The dispute has been tense at times, with the union producing a commercial last year blasting NBCUniversal. Telemundo refused to air the Spanish-language spot during the network's live broadcast of its "Premios Tu Mundo" award show.

As Telemundo has grown to become the largest employer of Spanish-language performers in the U.S., SAG-AFTRA has ramped up its effort to unionize the company. Some actors have publicly complained that they aren't sharing in the company's success and are having difficulty making ends meet.

Univision Communications, the broadcaster's main competitor, doesn't produce original scripted dramatic content in the U.S., according to a spokeswoman for SAG-AFTRA. Univision relies instead on a program licensing agreement with Grupo Televisa, with the work covered by the Mexican actors union ANDA.

UPDATES:

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Jan. 24, 10 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from Telemundo.

This article was originally published at 7:55 p.m. on Jan. 23.

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