This weekend, AFTRA members celebrate the contributions working men and women have made to our economy and our society. Workplace safety, overtime pay, the eight-hour workday, weekends, holiday pay – these are just a few of the benefits organized labor established for all Americans.
Today, we enjoy unique benefits in the entertainment and news media, thanks to the vision and courage of the AFTRA members who came before us. In 1954, just two years after AFRA merged with Television Authority to become AFTRA, then-National Executive Secretary George Heller’s and National President Frank Nelson’s vision led our union to establish the industry’s first multi-employer health and retirement plan for performers. Two years later, AFTRA members negotiated the first-ever formula for payments for the replay of performances – known today as residuals. In 1967, AFTRA members won our first national strike in just 13 days by holding to the principle that no general agreement can exist until ALL codes and contracts covering ALL categories were acceptable. This is a proud history to remember this Labor Day.
Later this month, AFTRA members join our sister union SAG at the bargaining table to negotiate our contracts covering primetime television and feature films. AFTRA’s “Exhibit A” (covering scripted network primetime programs) is just one of several major agreements AFTRA must bargain in the next 12 months. If done well, joint bargaining is a step forward in the short term. But in the long term, that alone cannot solve the larger, big-picture challenges faced by union members in the evolving and converging entertainment and news media industries. A new union, if it is focused on organizing, can give union members greater leverage to address those challenges as we move forward into the future.
Organizing is the most important thing that a forward-looking labor union does, and must be a central topic of discussion for the Presidents’ Forum for One New Union. During the next year, those discussions must reconcile and develop a shared vision among members for organizing in areas critical to all members – performers, recording artists and broadcasters. For example, we must reconcile views to form a common vision about organizing strategies in basic cable – and not just in scripted entertainment, but also in the real corporate profit centers of sports, news and informational programming. We need a shared understanding about the threat of, and how to stem, the rising tide of non-union commercial and non-broadcast work around the country, including Los Angeles. We must educate each other about the experiences of our recording artists, whose industry has cratered and is transforming itself, to both find solutions to their challenges and also use that knowledge to anticipate the challenges looming for performers in audiovisual fields.
And, in 2011, AFTRA must also negotiate our Non-Broadcast Code and the AFTRA Network TV Code “Front of the Book,” as well as our important local station contracts nationwide, while conducting the day-to-day important work for AFTRA members: filing claims, visiting stations and sets, litigating arbitrations, hosting member education events and, of course, organizing.
Watch your mailbox this weekend for your Fall 2010 issue of “AFTRA Magazine.” It contains stories of AFTRA members changing their world of work and maintaining the high standards our past leaders established in the entertainment, recorded music and news media industries. Click here to read the Fall 2010 issue of “AFTRA Magazine” now online.
In the spirit of Labor Day solidarity: Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) members at the Mott's Williamson plant in upstate New York have been on strike since May in protest of the company's unfair negotiations. The stock of Mott's parent company – Dr. Pepper Snapple Group – rose 180% last year, so slashing their workers' pay and pensions isn't to keep the business afloat: it is corporate greed. Please take a moment to join me in supporting our fellow workers by telling Mott's that workers deserve fair negotiations, not bullying and disrespect! Click here to send a message to Larry Young, President and CEO of Dr. Pepper Snapple Group
I encourage all AFTRA members to join your Local’s Labor Day celebration. We are the people who entertain and inform America, so let’s make our faces seen and our voices heard throughout the nation as we celebrate the immeasurable contributions of America’s Labor Movement.