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SAG-AFTRA merger singing dues blues

Different dues levels could hurt merger

In a potential stumbling block for the pending SAG-AFTRA merger, local AFTRA broadcasters will be allowed to pay significantly lower annual dues than actors.

Following extensive debate within the joint merger committee, the panel decided the AFTRA broadcasters’ dues will be capped at $3,125 if they work solely under local broadcast contracts — 44% lower than the actors’ cap of $5,625 — when the new dues structure goes into effect.

The issue had been a sticking point in recent weeks within the committee. And the Save SAG merger opponents, who have not yet organized a campaign, could use the dues disparity as a rallying point during the member vote in May and June.

SAG reps contended in the committee meetings that the dues structure for high-earning performers should be equalized, while AFTRA reps argued the hike was too severe. Currently, SAG’s cap on annual dues is $5,300, or almost three times as high as AFTRA’s $1,841.

The new structure, released Monday, calls for base annual dues of $125, 1.5% dues on earnings up to $100,000 and 1% dues on earnings between $100,000 and $500,000.

AFTRA national exec director Greg Hessinger said the joint committee felt it would be “prudent and appropriate” to acknowledge the history of AFTRA’s lower dues structure, particularly since some locals are still phasing in the most recent increase in AFTRA’s dues schedule.

“Experience throughout the labor movement has shown us that it is very difficult at the outset of a newly consolidated union to implement a new dues structure that is completely identical across all categories of membership and income,” he said.

Hessinger also noted the new constitution requires that resources and services be allocated consistent with the income generated by affiliates, so broadcasters will receive services commensurate with the revenues generated by their members. He said the lower cap would apply to about 1,000 current AFTRA members.

If the merger goes through, it would create an umbrella union called the Alliance of Intl. Media Artists with affiliates for artists, broadcasters and recording artists.

The SAG and AFTRA national boards approved the principle of a merger in February by a 141-3 margin and will vote next weekend on the constitutions and final business plan, triggering a referendum vote by members of both unions. Merger backers contend vertical integration by congloms makes it necessary for performers to combine in an umbrella union, which will have about 135,000 members. Opponents such as SAG treasurer Kent McCord contend SAG will be relegated to “secondary status” since AIMA will control the finances.

At least 60% of voters in both unions must approve the deal for the merger to go through.

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