American Federation of Television and Radio Artists

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American Federation of Television and Radio Artists logo.png
Full name American Federation of Television and Radio Artists
Founded August 16, 1937 (as AFRA)
September 17, 1952 (as AFTRA)
Date dissolved March 30, 2012
Merged into SAG-AFTRA
Members 65,744
Country United States
Affiliation AFL-CIO, IFJ, FIA
Key people Roberta Reardon, President
Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, National Executive Co-Director
Office location 5757 Wilshire Blvd
7th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90036

360 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10017

1 East Erie
Suite 650
Chicago, Illinois 60611

and other American cities


The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) was a performers' union that represented a wide variety of talent, including actors in radio and television, 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—as the organization itself publicly states, "AFTRA's membership includes an array of talent".[1] With the information presently available, the union can lay claim to 65,182 members throughout the United States[2] (with a figure of 131,000 quoted in early 2012).[3] On March 30, 2012, it was announced that the members of AFTRA and of SAG had voted to merge and that the name of the new organization is SAG-AFTRA.[4]

AFTRA is located at 5757 Wilshire Blvd, 7th Floor, Los Angeles, California. There are also offices in New York City, Chicago, and several other American cities. The federation as a whole has 804 employees and total assets worth $30,403,661.00.[2] AFTRA works in the interests of its members, primarily in the areas of contract negotiation and enforcement, advocacy (including lobbying, legislation and public policy issues) and member benefits such as employer-paid health plans.[1] AFTRA is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the International Federation of Journalists and the International Federation of Actors. AFTRA also shares jurisdiction of radio, television, Internet and other new media with its sister union SAG, whilst the latter is the body solely responsible for motion picture performances.[5]

History of the Federation[edit]

Radio years[edit]

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 was formed,[6]:21 succeeding Radio Equity and the Radio Actors Guild. The Four As – 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.

Television years[edit]

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.

Cable/Home Video/Digital years[edit]

In 1980, AFTRA and SAG members held a strike against prime time television, they wanted a formula for performer participation in profits from sale of videocassettes and pay TV. In 1981, a merger of AFTRA and SAG jointly entered their "Phase 1 Agreement," calling for a number of jointly negotiated, ratified, and administered contracts.

AFTRA became the target of a lawsuit by Tuesday Productions, a San Diego-based non-union jingle house, which brought anti-trust charges against the union for attempting to organize performers. A jury award for triple damages of $12 million to the company drove 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 began to rebuild. AFTRA paid no money to Tuesday Production because of declaring bankruptcy.

In 1986, a strike against network television was averted when companies backed off the demand for AFTRA news broadcasters to assume sweeping technical duties.

In 1992, as part of a coalition of recording artists, singers, musicians, and others, AFTRA members worked with Congress to enact the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, 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 negotiated the first Interactive Media Agreement to cover performances in videogames. In 1996, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act, opening the door for massive ownership concentration in the broadcast sector.

In 2000, AFTRA and SAG members staged a six-month strike against advertisers to gain improvements in basic cable and internet commercials, preserving established residual formulas for new media outlets.

In 2003, in a referendum on the merger of AFTRA and SAG, AFTRA members supported consolidation by more than 75%, while SAG members rejected the merger with 58% voting for it. At least 60% was required to pass. 640 votes would have swung the result.[7]

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

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

AFTRA and SAG members agreed 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.[8]

The merger between AFTRA and SAG was approved by the memberships of both unions on March 30, 2012. Prior to the vote, a request was made by the SAG membership for the League of Women Voters to oversee the vote count. This was rejected by the SAG leadership, so there was never any independent verification of the vote count. This has left a permanent cloud over the vote tally.[4]

AFTRA rules and procedures[edit]

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 $1,600.

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[edit]

AFTRA provides equal employment opportunities for its members in all locations where it operates. The union strives to increase employment opportunities for women, minorities, seniors, people with disabilities, and to uphold the Non-Discrimination/Affirmation Action Plan for all AFTRA members. Working with AFTRA production signatories guarantees members fair compensation, safe working conditions, health benefits and retirement plans. Members can also participate in professional development through coaching, workshops and classes, support and counselling, educational scholarships for members and their dependants. Members also receive discounts on hospitalization and prescriptions, travel costs, computers, and additional education. See Sag-aftra for current information regarding all the new benefits for union members

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The People Who Entertain and Inform America" (Web page). AFTRA. 2009. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "TV & Radio Artists AFTRA" (Web page). Center for Union Facts. 20 March 2011. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  3. ^ Daniel Lehman (29 February 2012). "SAG and AFTRA Send Merger Ballots to Members" (Web page). Back Stage. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  4. ^ a b "SAG, AFTRA Members Approve Merger to Form SAG-AFTRA". Retrieved March 30, 2012. 
  5. ^ 'mjflick' (12 August 2007). "Top: Arts: Performing Arts: Acting: Unions" (Web page). Open-Site: Free Internet Encyclopedia. Open Site. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  6. ^ Harvey, Rita Morley, Those Wonderful, Terrible Years: George Heller and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8093-2022-3
  7. ^ Jonathan Handel, [1], The Hollywood Reporter, March 30, 2012
  8. ^ Scott Collins, "A SAG strike won't cripple TV", Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2008

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