Details hashed out in Saturday meeting

Following the Screen Actors Guild’s lead, board members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists meeting in Los Angeles agreed to hold a referendum this year on whether the two unions should merge.

AFTRA’s national board, gathered for the union’s twice-yearly plenary session, passed a resolution Saturday spelling out the referendum’s proposed contents, including details about a joint constitution, by-laws and initiation rules that would be implemented should SAG and AFTRA join forces.

SAG’s board voted on Jan. 17 to send a similar referendum to its members, most likely in late summer or fall. AFTRA’s vote will take place at the same time.

The moves by both unions show new impetus in their drawn-out efforts to converge under the same banner, but a sticking point remains their seeming inability to reconcile their pension plans.

AFTRA’s referendum “will provide the fullest discussion of the issues pertaining to merger of the unions and will include an explanation of the effect on the AFTRA health and retirement plans,” the resolution says.

Dick Moore, an AFTRA spokesman, said the union is actively exploring the possibility of merging the two unions “without merging the pensions.” Quoting from the resolution, he said AFTRA and SAG leaders will begin discussions “posthaste regarding health and retirement pension issues, including alternatives to a merger of the plans,” as a way to “properly resolve our differences.”

Moore said that board members meeting at AFTRA’s summer plenary, most likely in New York, would hear a report on the state of discussions between the unions and “may make a final decision on the merger recommendation to our members.”

In addition, the approximately 125 AFTRA board members who met at the Sheraton Universal Hotel heard reports on the union’s $1.2 million effort to organize cable TV workers; on the status of AFTRA’s new Web site; and on negotiations to reach agreement on a contract for network news employees.

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