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The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) is a performers' union that represents a wide variety of talent, including actors in radio and television, as well as radio and television announcers and newspersons, singers and recording artists (both royalty artists and background singers), promo and voice-over announcers and other performers in commercials, stunt persons and specialty acts. The union currently (2005) has approximately 80,000 members in affiliated locales in major cities throughout the United States (44,000 of whom hold SAG memberships as well). The two largest locales are in Los Angelesmarker, and New York Citymarker. AFTRA negotiates wages and working conditions including dollar figures for standard contracts, residual payments for re-use of performances, unemployment, health and pension benefits for its members. AFTRA is affiliated with the AFL-CIO and the International Federation of Journalists. AFTRA shares jurisdiction of radio, television, Internet, and other new media with its sister union SAG.

The Current National Executive Director of AFTRA is Kim Roberts Hedgpeth.The Current National President is Roberta Reardon.

History of the Federation

The Radio Years

Emboldened by the National Labor Relations Act passed by Congress in 1935, radio artists from Los Angeles band together to form the Radio Actors Guild. About the same time, Broadway actor George Heller begins lobbying Actors’ Equity Association in New York for a contract protecting radio artists. This leads to the creation of Radio Equity, existing under the umbrella of Actors’ Equity.

On August 16, 1937, the American Federation of Radio Artists is formed with its own charter, succeeding Radio Equity and the Radio Actors Guild. The Four A’s –- the Associated Actors and Artistes of America –- grant a charter to the new union, with 400 members in two locations. Chicago, the center for “soap opera” production, quickly follows New York and Los Angeles with performers forming their own local chapter. By December 1937, AFRA has more 2,000 members.

On July 12, 1938, with the support of radio stars Eddie Cantor, Edgar Bergen, Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, and others, AFRA members negotiate the first collectively-bargained agreement on a national scale –- with NBC and CBS –- resulting in a wage increase of 125%. In 1939, after only two years in existence, AFRA covers 70% of live radio broadcasting through collective bargaining agreements.

In 1941, AFRA members negotiate the Transcription Code, providing for programs recorded for later broadcast, and building cost-of-living increases into contracts.

The Television Years

Due to a jurisdiction dispute over television performers, the Associated Actors and Artistes of America create the Television Authority on April 16, 1950, which negotiates the first network television contract in December. In 1951, The goal of a resolution from the 1947 National Convention is finally realized as AFRA negotiates the first Phonograph Recording Code for singers with the major recording labels.

On September 17, 1952, the Television Authority and AFRA merge to create a new union: the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. George Heller is the first head of AFTRA, which has nearly 10,000 members. In 1954, AFTRA negotiates the AFTRA Pension and Welfare Plan (later became the AFTRA Health and Retirement Funds) which stands as the industry's first benefit package and is negotiated into other agreements.

In 1956, early television agreements had been based on live performances, but by the mid 1950s, videotape improved to the point where programs could be broadcast repeatedly. AFTRA members negotiate the first-ever formula for payments for replay of performances, which becomes the basis for residuals and syndication throughout the television industry. In 1960, AFTRA and Screen Actors Guild members conduct first joint negotiations on television commercials.

In 1967, AFTRA members call the union’s first national strike on March 29, 1967, after negotiations breakdown over staff announcer contracts at owned-and-operated stations in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles and over first-time contracts for “Newsmen” at networks and owned-and-operated stations. Since AFTRA adhered to a bargaining principle that no general agreement exists until all Codes and Contracts are acceptable, the 13-day strike involves all 18,000 members in more than 100 locations across the country. Agreement is reached on the outstanding issues at 8:05 pm, EST, on Monday, April 10, 1967—just in time to allow broadcast of the annual Academy Awards program live from the Santa Monica Auditorium.

In 1974, a challenge by William F. Buckley to AFTRA’s union shop agreements for news broadcasters fails as the U.S. Supreme Court declines to review the case.AFTRA and SAG members jointly negotiate the contract covering primetime dramatic programming on the major television networks for the first time.

In 1978, in only the second national strike in AFTRA’s history, AFTRA and SAG members strike the advertising agencies and national advertisers over the jointly-negotiated Commercials Contracts.

The Cable/Home Video/Digital Years

In 1980, AFTRA and SAG members strike primetime television to win a formula for performer participation in profits from sale to videocassettes and pay TV. In 1981, While a merger of AFTRA and SAG jointly enter their “Phase 1” Agreement, calling for a number of jointly-negotiated, ratified, and administered contracts.

AFTRA becomes the target of a lawsuit by Tuesday Productions, a San Diego-based non-union jingle house, which brings anti-trust charges against the union for attempting to organize performers. A jury award for triple damages of $12 million to the company drives AFTRA into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1982. After a financial settlement by AFTRA and SAG (which is also party to the suit), AFTRA emerges from Chapter 11 in 1983 and begins to rebuild.

In 1986, a strike against network television is averted when companies back off demand that AFTRA news broadcasters assume sweeping technical duties.

In 1992, as part of a coalition of recording artists, singers, musicians, and others, AFTRA members work with Congress to enact the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992—and later the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. All three laws grant a performance right in sound recordings for a wide range of digital uses including home recording and distribution by internet, cable, and satellite. AFTRA helps develop mechanisms to assure payments to recording artists from the collection and distribution of royalties established by the laws.

In 1993, AFTRA members negotiate the first Interactive Media Agreement to cover performances in videogames. In 1996, Congress passes the Telecommunications Act, opening the door for massive ownership concentration in the broadcast sector.

In 2000, AFTRA and SAG members stage six-month strike against advertisers to gain improvements in basic cable and internet commercials and preserve established residual formulas.

In 2003, in a referendum on the merger of AFTRA and SAG, AFTRA members support consolidation by more than 75%, while SAG members fall two percentage points short of the 60% affirmative vote needed to unite the two unions.

In 2005, with the digital distribution of programming by Apple iTunes and the video iPod announced in October, AFTRA joins with other entertainment unions in calling for ongoing dialogue with employers to ensure fair and proper compensation for performers’ work.

In 2006, AFTRA helps lead the campaign against relaxation of media ownership rules by the Federal Communications Commission. Through 2007, AFTRA elected leaders, members, and staff testify at numerous hearings held throughout the country and send letters to the FCC opposing consolidation of media ownership.

AFTRA and SAG members agree with the advertising industry to examine performer compensation models for commercials appearing on television, radio, and internet, as well as the growing array of existing and yet-to-be-developed media. The study will help inform negotiations of the Commercials Contracts when the current two-year extension agreement expires October 28, 2008.

AFTRA rules and procedures

To join AFTRA applicants need to complete an application. They also must pay a one-time initiation fee and dues for the current dues period. The initiation fee is currently $1,300 but increases to $1,600 starting November 1, 2009.

Dues are calculated and billed semi-annually using dual scales, but there are also minimum and maximum dues. As of November 1, 2004, the minimum dues are $63.90 and the maximum dues are $1,012.40. For all AFTRA earnings up to from $0 to $100,000 the member is billed for 0.137% of their earnings. For all AFTRA earnings up to from $100,000 to $250,000 the member is billed for 0.743% of their earnings. If a members has less than $2,000 annually in AFTRA earnings they pay only the minimum amount of $63.90.

Member benefits and privileges

Independent Work

AFTRA National Executive Directors and Presidents

See also


  1. Scott Collins, "A SAG strike won't cripple TV", Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2008

External links

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