Union membership offered to those who help strike

In an unusual tactic, the Screen Actors Guild is offering union membership to volunteers who perform 80 hours of work on its strike against advertisers.

SAG’s national board voted last week to allow volunteeers to apply for membership rather than holding them to the usual requirements of employment by a SAG signatory or employment through membership in an affiliated union such as the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists.

The program is designed to attract actors who could be potential strike-breakers and turn them into union supporters. During the strike, now in its 25th day, SAG and AFTRA members have leafletted casting offices, comedy clubs and acting schools in an attempt to dissuade non-members from taking struck work.

“We’ve been targeting working actors who will be the most likely people to join SAG in the future,” explained Tom O’Keefe, a non-union actor who is co-directing the program. “I had been planning to do non-union work during the strike but after I stepped back for a day, I realized that I wanted to support SAG.”

As of Wednesday, 400 actors had signed up for the program, which begins with a 90-minute orientation.

SAG is also allowing non-union principal actors who leave the sets of commercials to join SAG if they can supply written proof that they were offered employment prior to their departure.

Prior to the strike, SAG warned members they could face explusion for performing struck work. That provoked advertisers to file an unfair labor practices complaint, alleging that the warnings were illegal because they amounted to threat of a lifetime ban.

The usual method for obtaining membership in SAG requires one of three requirements: proof of employment by a signatory company in a principal or speaking role; three days work as an extra; and being a paid-up member of an affiliate union for a year and having worked at least once as a principal for that union. Initiation fee is $1,192 plus half of the $100 annual dues.

In other developments Wednesday, union actors stole the spotlight at AT&T’s annual shareholders meeting in Chicago during the three-hour event.

Half a dozen high-profile members of the Screen Actors Guild — including Elliott Gould, Sally Kirkland, Gary Cole, Rebeccah Bush, Karen Austin and Jere Burns — took two-minute turns at the microphone during a question-and-answer session to blast AT&T as being an opponent of union efforts to obtain an improved contract.

“We, as a union, deserve to participate in AT&T’s growth,” Gould declared. The actors, who were able to enter the meeting as shareholders or as proxies through the AFL-CIO, also expressed their anger over AT&T’s use of non-union actors in recent ads. “I don’t think the shareholders want to be associated with a company that’s union-busting,” Burns said.

Prior to the meeting, about 80 SAG and AFTRA members demonstrated outside the site. Demonstrations were also held outside AT&T facilities in Phoenix, Salt Lake City and the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos.

During the rest of the meeting in Chicago, CEO C. Michael Armstrong discussed AT&T’s declining stock price and investments away from its core long-distance business into new technologies.

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