Merging with the Screen Actors Guild was the No. 1 topic this past weekend as the national board of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists held its biannual plenary session in Century City.

“I was happy to tell our members that the only thing missing as this small committee has met to discuss merger is rancor and the protective attitudes of the past,” said Reed Farrell, AFTRA president.

Farrell was referring to a series of recent meetings among himself, SAG prexy Barry Gordon and three other union officials to discuss the merger. The thought was that if the committee was limited to just five members, more might be accomplished.

Currently the meetings have been put on hiatus while additional information is gathered, but Farrell said he expected them to reconvene within the next month.

“One thing that drives us toward merger is jurisdiction, specifically our shared jurisdiction,” Farrell said.

AFTRA and SAG both represent actors who work in television commercials, non-broadcast television and prime time television.

Farrell said he himself cannot reconcile any recommendations to give up a certain category of AFTRA jurisdiction (to SAG) in order to lay claim to another , so Farrell says the best solution then is to merge.

“When I first became president, I thought we could work out any jurisdictional disputes within our shared territory,” he said, “but it’s been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do.”

Another critical issue for Farrell is AFTRA’s contingency of broadcasters and news station members, which only number about 5,000 out of AFTRA’s 77,000 members, but whose dues and resid percentages make up a sizable chunk of the union’s annual budget.

“It’s very important to me that any new union that is formed out of a merger will better serve those members,” he said. “We’ve heard a concerned voice from that constituency and we’re concerned about them.”

One positive step recently taken by SAG that makes the two unions more compatible is the decision to restructure the way its national board meets, Farrell said.

Now, instead of holding several deferred agenda meetings each year–whereby SAG’s executive boards on both coasts would meet separately on the same agenda — they will instead hold four meetings annually. This is much closer to AFTRA’s own plenary sessions, which it holds twice a year.

In other business, Farrell said that a negotiating committee has been approved for the upcoming joint negotiations between SAG, AFTRA and the producers for a new industrial contract. Those talks are skedded to get under way Feb. 16.

A negotiating committee has also been approved for the phonograph recording contract, with talks not due to start until March 1.

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