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Actors’ merger divergence

Dues, autonomy fears spark SAG-AFTRA foes

Significant opposition to the proposed SAG-AFTRA merger has emerged, portending a potentially bitter fight for the votes of SAG’s 98,000 members.

High-profile thesps aligned against the merger include Bonnie Bartlett, Joe Bologna, Tyne Daly, former SAG prexy William Daniels, Miguel Ferrer, Frances Fisher, Valerie Harper, Diane Ladd, SAG treasurer Kent McCord, Esai Morales and Renee Taylor.

The opponents, operating under the Save SAG banner, have scheduled a Wednesday news conference outside SAG headquarters in Los Angeles.

Plans for the event began coming together as SAG’s national board voted Sunday against issuing a “minority report” that would have presented the arguments against the merger in ballot materials mailed to members.

The motion asked the board to waive the requirement of a 25% “no” vote of the SAG board for trigger issuance of a minority report. Opponents argued that the report should be issued on grounds of fairness.

Following a daylong informational meeting Saturday for both boards, the panels met separately on Sunday to give formal approval the merger plan, a foregone conclusion that triggers a vote in June by the separate memberships. SAG’s board approved the merger by a 118-18 vote. The AFTRA board approved it 89-6 with 5 abstentions.

Details of the merger will be announced at a news conference today at SAG headquarters with merger backers including SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert, AFTRA prexy John Connolly and SAG board members Barbara Bosson, James Cromwell, Mike Farrell and Mitchell Ryan.

The merger would create an umbrella union called the Alliance of Intl. Media Artists with affiliates for actors (the Screen Actors Guild), broadcasters (AFTRA) and recording artists (AFRA). Total membership would be about 135,000; there are currently about 40,000 thesps who hold both SAG and AFTRA cards.

SAG’s board voted unanimously in February to approve the concept of a merger while AFTRA’s voted in favor by a 72-3 margin. Backers have contended that the merger is essential to avoid jurisdictional disputes, cut costs and give performers more strength amid massive consolidation of media congloms.

Opponents waited until details of the merger were available before launching their campaign. Though starting late, they still have six weeks to organize before ballots arrive in mailboxes in late May, and they’ll only need to sway 41% of voters to vote “no” since a 60% approval is required.

Key points that have sparked opposition:

  • Dues disparity with local broadcaster annual dues capped at $3,125 while actor dues are capped at $5,625.

  • Perceived loss of autonomy and control of finances by SAG since actions of the SAG board can be over-ruled by the AIMA board. SAG CEO Bob Pisano recently spurned an alternative merger plan that sought to give the SAG affiliate more power.

  • Uncertainty over combining SAG and AFTRA’s pension and health plans into a single entity. The health plans — which are jointly administered by reps of the unions and reps of the studios and nets — would not be combined until after actors have voted up the merger.

  • Uncertainty over the talent agent franchise agreement since SAG’s lapsed a year ago. SAG and AFTRA leaders say that after the merger, the current situation will continue with AFTRA’s franchise rules applying to AFTRA work until the new entity can resolve the issue.

Gilbert and Pisano campaigned actively a year ago for a revamp in SAG’s agency franchise, which would have eased ownership restrictions on the tenpercenters. But SAG members gave the initiative only 45% approval following a campaign that centered on conflict of interest issues.

SAG voters also gave only 46% approval to a similar merger in 1999; 67% of AFTRA voters endorsed that deal.

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