Thesp guilds aim for more perfect union

Committee may be created to o'see relations

SAG is quietly moving toward shoring up the sour partnership with its sister union, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists.

In a move aimed at heading off more ongoing battles between the leading U.S. actors unions, SAG’s national board will vote next week on creation of an 18-member national AFTRA relations committee.

The SAG national board approved CEO Bob Pisano’s suggestion of an AFTRA committee at its April meeting, which took place the day after guild members turned down the revamp of SAG’s master franchise agreement.

AFTRA national exec director Greg Hessinger confirmed that SAG execs have asked AFTRA to form a similar committee at its national plenary on July 25-26. “They haven’t indicated what they want to discuss, but I’m certain it will lead to further amicable and constructive efforts,” he added.

SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert, whose platform included an emphasis on seeking better relations with other Hollywood unions, has tapped Hollywood members Daryl Anderson, Amy Aquino, Rebeccah Bush, George Coe, Lee Garlington, Tess Harper, Peggy Miley, Yale Summers, Fred Savage and Racheal Seymour; New York members Maureen Donnelly, John Fleming, Bob Kaliban and Larry Keith; and regional branch reps Annie Long, Nik Hagler, Nancy Sellers and Mike Pniewski.

Other than a motion by the SAG Hollywood board that members of the SAG and AFTRA national boards not be allowed to serve in the new group, the panel has not been charged with a single specific goal. But the unions are currently at odds on several fronts:

  • They are both claiming jurisdiction over Fox TV shows shot on digital, with the situation unresolved.

  • SAG members voted in mid-April against a revamp of the SAG master franchise agreement for agents, less than a week after AFTRA’s national board approved a similar revamp. That prompted a bitter and extraordinary exchange between SAG treasurer Ken McCord, who contended AFTRA should have waited for the SAG vote, and Hessinger, who insisted AFTRA was not trying to undercut SAG.

  • Pisano is expected to announce as early as next week the closing of several of SAG’s 23 regional branch “brick-and-mortar” offices as part of his top-to-bottom reorg of guild operations. Such a move, though not unexpected, will upset AFTRA leaders since it will mean a significant reduction in SAG support of offices that are either jointly run by AFTRA or operated with an AFTRA administrator.

3 years of strife

SAG has 98,000 members, while AFTRA’s rolls total about 80,000, with about 40,000 actors belonging to both unions. The relationship between the two orgs went south after SAG members’ vote, in early 1999, against a merger with AFTRA amid concerns over additional dues, how SAG would represent broadcasters and how the pension funds would be treated. SAG and AFTRA leaders have not held a “summit meeting” to discuss areas of shared jurisdiction since that year.

During 2000, AFTRA and SAG went on strike for six months against advertisers, but AFTRA leaders angered SAG by reneging on oral promises to split the tab, which wound up being $2.5 million. AFTRA eventually paid slightly under 11% of those costs.

Relations were further strained last year when AFTRA’s board turned down a SAG request to cut the number of AFTRA reps on the joint film-TV negotiating team from 13 to four, to reflect the far smaller contribution of AFTRA performers under that contract. SAG, which covers features and primetime TV on the pact, had 13 members on the team.

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