An ugly feud between two actors unions burst into the open Monday, with the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists accusing its sister union of breaching a 26-year-old bargaining agreement.
AFTRA and the larger Screen Actors Guild have been jointly negotiating contracts under a so-called Phase 1 Agreement adopted in 1981.
But that solidarity threatened to unravel Monday when AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon blasted a decision by the SAG board to change the way votes are counted on a joint negotiating committee.
Traditionally, each union has had 13 seats on a 26-member negotiating panel, with each member having one vote.
Concerned that AFTRA had too much pull, SAG's board voted this summer to switch to a system whereby SAG representatives would vote as a bloc, with a simple majority counting as 13 votes.
Reardon said the change breached the agreement and called on SAG to rescind its decision at a meeting Saturday.
"There is no other conclusion than that SAG has unfortunately terminated the joint bargaining agreement," she said.
SAG Executive Director Doug Allen said the guild remained committed to joint bargaining and added that "any assertion that Screen Actors Guild has violated Phase One is completely inaccurate."
The infighting occurs at a bad time for the actors guild, coming on the eve of crucial negotiations to replace a contract that expires June 30.
Although the two unions could negotiate separate deals with producers, a split could undermine SAG's bargaining efforts and deepen tensions among the union's members, about 40,000 of whom belong to both unions.
SAG represents about 120,000 members and AFTRA has about 70,000 members.
Reardon's remarks are the latest round in an increasingly heated spat between the two unions over jurisdiction and contracts.
In a recent letter to members, Allen accused AFTRA officials of undermining the guild's bargaining position by agreeing to rates that were more favorable to producers than SAG contracts would be.
Reardon fired back in her own letter to members, accusing SAG officials of attempting to take over her union, thereby committing "the cardinal sin of treachery within the labor movement."