It’s no secret SAG has been playing hardball, this week rejecting Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers‘ "final" contract offer. But AFTRA, which ratified its labor deal last week, has taken a different road and even repelled SAG’s recent effort to convince AFTRA members to vote down their own agreement. Why do AFTRA and SAG look at things so differently? We caught up with actor Holter Graham, AFTRA vp and co-chair of the negotiating committee, to get his take. Why do you think SAG’s arguments didn’t resonate with the majority of AFTRA members? Flexibility and a sense of partnership with management—from the UAW to modern shareholder-based conglomerates—are the ways of the future for employee success. If every major entertainment company has been merging in the past decades, then we need to use that same mentality on the labor side—merge our unions as well as partner with our employers to guarantee job security and profitability for the product moving forward. The members sense that and so would not follow SAG LA’s lead. But despite that, nearly 40% of AFTRA’s membership did side with SAG. I don’t blame members for being scared about their jobs, and thinking maybe someone on a successful TV shows has the answers. Sadly, it isn’t always true. It just shows AFTRA’s leadership that we have a job to do in keeping our members informed of the facts at all times, and trusting that the majority will always help us do the right thing in protecting them. Why did AFTRA’s leadership use the writers’ deal as a model rather than fight for more concessions? Management stated a long time ago that there were very specific parameters within which they were going to work on new deal for the entertainment industry. Even after a 100-day, $2.3bln-dollar-loss strike, the WGA did not get any movement off of that pattern. The labor negotiators at AFTRA saw very wisely and very early that the best way to get the best deal available was to adhere to the general tenets of the "pattern," and spend our diplomatic and strategic capital getting performer-specific improvements in that pattern. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of labor relations? I am optimistic. Why? It seems like the membership in the majority understand the shifting world on information and entertainment we now live in, and the membership at large is seeing that the leaders of AFTRA and the Guild outside of LA have their fingers on the right pulse. I think the growth of really fine dramatic programming on cable, coupled with AFTRA’s growing influence there and a growth in union coverage on cable at large, will all be harbingers of better quality and better product in the years ahead. [For an extended version of this interview, go to www.cablefaxcontentbusiness.com ].

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