Panel tries to clarify proposal

Opponents of the SAG/AFTRA merger kept up their drumbeat Monday night at a Universal City informational meeting chaired by Screen Actors Guild president Richard Masur.

The con side held the floor for most of the almost 3-hour session, which was attended by about 200 actors, some of whom have still not made up their minds about the merits of the proposed merger.

“I still feel torn, but I’m probably going to vote against it,” said actress Martitia Palmer, a SAG member for 25 years, on her way out of the meeting. “I don’t think things have been clarified enough — that’s what really bothers me.”

Yet clarification was the objective of the seven-member SAG panel assembled for the meeting. On the pro-merger side were Masur, associate national exec director John McGuire, first national veep Amy Aquino and John Connolly, who is on both the SAG and AFTRA boards; the con side comprises board member Daryl Anderson and former board members Kitty Swink and Ron Soble. SAG’s outside counsel, Leo Geffner, offered legal definitions.

Dues hike due

“We need to do this, we need to merge,” Aquino said. She disputed those who complained that the merger would hit members in their pockets. A proposed minimum dues hike to $185, she said, will likely be enacted regardless of whether the unions merge.

“We haven’t had a dues increase in 11 years,” she said. “Paying $185 doesn’t even begin to touch the surface of what it costs to run the union.”

Masur agreed. “We’re running at a substantial deficit,” he said.

Even more importantly, Aquino went on, failure to merge could lead to a jurisdictional war with the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. “The lowest contract, wherever it comes from, is going to be the one the producers run to,” she said. With a merger, she added, “A joint board would be 90% actors — we’ll be able to take care of our own.”

Opponents of the merger want to retain the “purity” of SAG. They are upset that about 15% of AFTRA’s members are not actors, and instead run the gamut from sports broadcasters to recording artists.

“I feel very strongly that only an actor can understand another actor,” Soble said. “If 85% of their members are actors, how do they have such deplorable contracts?”

Actors have power

To arguments that a merged union would have more clout when negotiating with producers, Soble said actors already have power because it is they who put audiences in theaters. “The producers don’t care which union is which,” he said. “All they care about is the actor.”

The con side includes SAG’s national treasurer, F.J. O’Neill, who said outside the hall at the Universal Sheraton that he disagrees with the financial plan for the merged union, which would have a combined budget of about $50 million.

“I don’t believe that financially we’re on solid ground with this merger,” O’Neill said. “I could be wrong, of course.”

Dominic Oliver, who has appeared on “NYPD Blue” and “Murphy Brown,” said the contention over the merger is destroying morale. “I’m a journeyman actor, in the trenches with my fellow actors,” he said, “and I see the leadership playing actor against actor.”

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