Actors Union Ratifies Deal With Hollywood Studios

Members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have ratified a new contract with Hollywood studios that boosts payments for actors whose work appears on the Internet, the union said Tuesday.

AFTRA said 62.4 percent of voting members approved the three-year deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

"Today's vote reflects the ability of AFTRA members to recognize a solid contract when they see it," AFTRA President Roberta Reardon said in a statement.

The vote came after fierce opposition by the rival Screen Actors Guild, the last major Hollywood union still negotiating with the studios for a new three-year contract. SAG contended a separate deal with AFTRA would dilute its clout at the bargaining table.

SAG represents 120,000 actors in movies, TV and other media. The TV and radio federation has 70,000 members including actors, singers, announcers and journalists. SAG and AFTRA share 44,000 dual members.

The contracts of both unions expired June 30, but both agreed with the studios to keep working under the old terms to avoid a shutdown of the entertainment industry.

Reardon said the vote was unusual because of the "unprecedented disinformation campaign aimed at interfering with our ratification process" and blamed SAG for politically motivated attacks.

She called on the two warring actors unions to discuss a merger in the months to come.

Studios and the actors unions have said they wanted to avoid another work stoppage like the 100-day strike by the Writers Guild of America that ended in February. That walkout stalled production on dozens of TV shows and is estimated to have cost the Los Angeles-area economy more than $2 billion.

AFTRA said its three-year deal, involving a handful of prime-time TV shows such as "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Rules of Engagement," establishes higher fees for downloaded content and residual payments for ad-supported steams and clips.

It also sets a 90-day deadline after ratification to develop rules that would have actors consent to the use of clips in a commercial market similar to iTunes.

The AFTRA deal boosts minimum wages by 3.5 percent in the first year of the contract, 3 percent in the second and 3.5 percent in the third. The increase is slightly higher than the bumps received by directors and writers.

SAG, the largest and most powerful actors union, is seeking increases in residual payments for appearances in DVDs, something neither writers, directors nor AFTRA could secure in their negotiations.

SAG also wants more say for actors when they are asked to endorse products within scripted shows.

Last week, the producers alliance made what it called its final offer to SAG. Producers said it provided $250 million in additional compensation over the three-year life of the contract.

SAG was studying the offer and was expected to respond Thursday.

SAG began formal talks with the producers' alliance on April 15, but those talks were temporarily suspended May 6 without a deal.

The producers then began bargaining with AFTRA. A deal was announced May 28 and approved by AFTRA's board of directors on June 6.

The studios said the possibility of a SAG strike sent some film producers rushing to finish shooting or to delay projects for fear they would be shut down before filming was complete.

But even after the old contract expired, on-location movie shoots were on the rise in Los Angeles, according to permitting group FilmL.A. Inc.

A-list actors weighed in on the dispute.

Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin and others joined hundreds of actors in signing an online petition urging actors to ratify the AFTRA pact.

Meanwhile, Jack Nicholson, Viggo Mortensen and Holly Hunter endorsed a SAG ad calling for AFTRA to return to the negotiating table to get a better deal.

George Clooney called the infighting counterproductive.

The deal with AFTRA largely followed the script laid out in contracts approved by directors and writers.

SAG and AFTRA had agreed to the same starting proposals but took different tacks with the studios, the first time they had negotiated separately for the first time in 27 years.

In March, AFTRA accused SAG of trying to entice actors in the soap drama "The Bold and The Beautiful" to abandon the federation. AFTRA said then it was in the best interests of its members to deal with the studios on its own.

Pressure for a speedy resolution to negotiations came from top actors such as Hanks, Clooney, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro, who took out ads in trade publications in March calling for talks to start months ahead of the June 30 contract expiration date.

SAG reached separate deals that cleared the way for more than 350 independent productions to raise financing and start work.

The agreements called for those companies to abide retroactively by the long-term contract eventually reached with the major studios.