(Adds background, union official's comments)
By Daniel Wiessner
March 8 U.S.-based Spanish-language actors and
other performers at Telemundo Television Studios LLC have voted
for the first time to form a union, which many of them say is
necessary to address inequities between them and
The Telemundo performers voted 91-21 in favor of joining
SAG-AFTRA, the 160,000-member union for U.S. film and television
actors, according to results released by the National Labor
Relations Board on Wednesday.
Joining the union will allow Telemundo actors, along with
singers, dancers and stunt people, to bargain with the network
for health insurance, residual payments, overtime pay and other
benefits that are routine at English-language television
Miami-based Telemundo, a unit of NBCUniversal Media LLC
, opposed the formation of a union. An NLRB official
in January rejected the network's claim that many of the
performers were independent contractors who could not unionize.
A spokesperson on Wednesday said the network was
disappointed but would "remain committed to all of our employees
and will move forward with the negotiation process after the
election results have been certified by the NLRB."
David White, the national executive director of SAG-AFTRA,
said the election capped a long and challenging campaign, as
many Telemundo performers had concerns about unionizing.
"They are planting firm roots in the American media
landscape and today demanded that they are treated fairly as
workers in this country,” he said.
Before NBC acquired Telemundo in 2001, most Spanish-language
programming shown in the United States was produced in Mexico,
Spain and other countries using unionized actors.
Telemundo now produces three or four soap operas, known as
telenovelas, in the United States each year, employing about 500
people primarily in the Miami area, according to the network.
SAG-AFTRA and many Telemundo actors say that as the network
has climbed in the ratings and stepped up its production in
Miami in recent years, the differences in working conditions
between its performers and those at NBC and other
English-language networks have become stark.
In fact, unionized Spanish-speaking actors in Mexico and
other countries often earn more and have better benefits than
their counterparts in the United States, Pablo Azar, a
telenovela actor from Mexico with a role in the new Telemundo
show "La Fan" said in an interview last week.
With a union, he said, "we are finally going to be at a
place where we feel equal to English-speaking actors."
(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by
Alexia Garamfalvi and Alistair Bell)