Groups working together 'to empower performers'

HOLLYWOOD — The urge to merge may be overtaking the nation’s top two performer unions.

Leaders of SAG and AFTRA have set a third series of meetings over jurisdictional issues for next week and pledged strong mutual support as they head into bargaining later this year. The confab among committees will take place Jan. 21-23 in Los Angeles.

Although SAG and AFTRA remain coy on the question of combining, the warming relations between the unions has been fueling speculation that some kind of merger is in the works. Insiders believe a likely scenario would reform the two orgs so that AFTRA-repped broadcasters would be separate from actors.

Membership overlap

The orgs issued a brief statement Monday from SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert and AFTRA prexy John Connolly: “These committee members are working very hard to create strategies to empower performers as we jointly prepare for important upcoming negotiations with employers in 2003 and 2004. We are eager to continue this cooperative effort on behalf of all of our respective members, including the 40,000 members that we share.”

Almost 40% of SAG’s 98,000 members are also members of AFTRA; almost 60% of AFTRA’s 65,000 members are also members of SAG.

Announcement came during a videoconferenced meeting of SAG’s national board. AFTRA’s board will meet Jan. 25.

SAG and AFTRA jointly negotiate the commercials contract, which expires next October, and the film-TV pact, which is up in July 2004.

The SAG-AFTRA meetings on jurisdiction began in November with three days of talks and followed last month with four more days of talks in the first such get-togethers since 1999, when SAG members voted down a merger.

Jurisdictional dispute

Both unions have refused to elaborate on the substance of seven days of discussions, which came about as a result of a jurisdictional dispute over Fox-produced TV shows shot on digital. SAG granted contract waivers to producers allowing AFTRA terms and conditions — which meant background performers and thesps with fewer than six lines are paid at lower AFTRA rates — but the dispute over which union has the right to organize non-network shows shot on digital remains unresolved.

Gilbert and Connolly have strongly endorsed working out jurisdictional battles, but Gilbert has indicated she won’t immediately push for revisiting a SAG/AFTRA merger in the same form as was defeated in 1999.

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