AFTRA—the people who entertain and inform America have been moving forward for 70 years

For 70 years, professional actors, journalists, dancers, singers and royalty artists, announcers, hosts, comedians, disc jockeys, and other performers across the media industries—including television, radio, cable, sound recordings, music videos, commercials, audio books, non-broadcast industrials, interactive games, internet, and other digital media—have been moving forward together with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Here are some of the events and milestones that helped define AFTRA:

Congress passes the National Labor Relations Act.

Independent efforts by radio performers in Los Angeles to create a Radio Actors Guild and in New York to form a Radio Equity are combined to establish the American Federation of Radio Artists. On August 16, 1937, the Four A’s—the Associated Actors and Artistes of America—grant a charter to the new union, with 400 members in two Locals. Chicago, the center for “soap opera” production, quickly follows New York and Los Angeles with performers forming their own Local. By December, AFRA has more 2,000 members covering almost 90% of all radio artists in key broadcast cities.

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. After four days and nights of negotiation, the Basic Network Sustaining Agreement is signed on July 12, 1938, and establishes a wage increase of 125%, and union security for radio talent.

After only two years in existence, AFRA covers 70% of live radio broadcasting through collective bargaining agreements.

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

With the end of World War II, Americans seek out new forms of entertainment as television and phonographs gain popularity—and work opportunities expand for AFRA members.

With jurisdiction over television performers in dispute, the Four A’s creates the Television Authority on April 16, 1950, which negotiates the first network television contract in December.

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.

In a bold negotiation move, AFTRA members propose a single-demand strategy for the Network Television Code—the creation of a pension and welfare plan funded entirely by employer contributions. Rejecting counter demands for cutbacks, AFTRA holds firm and eventually wins the industry-first benefit package. The AFTRA Pension and Welfare Plan—which later becomes the AFTRA Health and Retirement Funds—is negotiated into others agreements.

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.


AFTRA and Screen Actors Guild members  conduct first joint negotiations on television commercials.

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.


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.
AFTRA urges passage of federal law requiring radio stations to pay recording artists when their talents are appropriated by stations for profit. AFTRA members tell Congress, “The only reason radio stations play music is to get people to listen to commercials.” Legislation fails, but AFTRA continues to work on this issue, and it is revived in 2007.

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.
AFTRA and SAG members strike primetime television to win a formula for performer participation in profits from sale to videocassettes and pay TV.

While a merger of AFTRA and SAG has been proposed and considered many times since 1937, the two unions enter into a formal agreement to join together to benefit performers. The so-called “Phase 1” Agreement goes into effect, 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.  The verdict and the settlement uphold the unions’ right to order members not to work for employers who refuse to enter into collective bargaining agreements.

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

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.

AFTRA members negotiate the first Interactive Media Agreement to cover performances in videogames.

Congress passes the Telecommunications Act, opening the door for massive ownership concentration in the broadcast sector.  Within six years, Clear Channel Communications holdings rise to more than 1,200 radio stations nationwide.  Clear Channel goes from being a completely non-AFTRA company to one of AFTRA’s largest signatory employers in broadcast.

AFTRA signs agreement with Nickelodeon to cover performances on the cable TV network. This first system-wide agreement sets a model for assuring union standards for jobs on cable television. With each renegotiation of the contract, wages and benefits improve.


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 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.

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.

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.
More than 40 productions for internet and other new media have been covered by the AFTRA Electronic Media Agreement that sets union standards for jobs. The new contracts are part of an overall effort to expand job opportunities for professional performers into the digital realm.

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