SAG, AFTRA float merger moniker

Plan will be submitted to nat'l boards on April 12-13

Welcome to the Alliance of Intl. Media Artists, the proposed name for the umbrella union that would be created if the SAG-AFTRA merger goes through.

SAG and AFTRA’s merger committee announced Wednesday it had selected the AIMA designation for the combined organization with a trio of affiliates — the Screen Actors Guild for actors; the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists for broadcasters; and the American Federation of Recording Artists for recording artists.

The old and new names will be part of the overall merger plan submitted to SAG’s and AFTRA’s national boards on April 12-13, expected to trigger a vote by members in May and June. The merged union would contain about 135,000 members.

The SAG name had been expected to survive, partly to limit opposition among the thesps with an emotional attachment to the 70-year-old name (Daily Variety, March 27).

SAG members voted down a merger in 1999, giving it only 46% support (60% was required), while AFTRA members gave that proposal 67% support.

SAG president Melissa Gilbert and AFTRA president John Connolly issued a joint statement: “The group considered many possibilities and chose those that best identify media professionals who work around the globe in a variety of disciplines. The committee recognizes the pride and respect members hold for both SAG and AFTRA and our rich legacies.”

Gilbert and Connolly have indicated previously that the new umbrella org could serve as a vehicle to link up other performers unions, such as Actors Equity.

SAG spokeswoman Ilyanne Kichaven said the committee received extensive recommendations from members before reaching a decision. She added that the AIMA name had been legally cleared.

The SAG-AFTRA committee did not release any other names that have been considered, but the Talent Professionals Union received some support during discussions.

The announcement came on the second of three days of meetings in Gotham to hammer out the business plan, constitutions and other details. No official announcement has been made yet of how the union will implement the principle of a uniform dues structure, which will mean that the $1,840 annual cap on broadcasters’ dues will likely be hiked for top earners to match SAG’s annual cap of $5,300.

SAG leaders have agreed to spend $1.6 million to complete the merger and have contended the combo is needed to stop jurisdictional fights and increase performers’ power in dealing with entertainment mega-congloms. The AFL-CIO has been an active supporter of the proposal.

Opponents have not yet launched an organized campaign, emphasizing they are becoming increasingly frustrated by a lack of details on key issues, such as how the separate health and retirement plans will be merged; which organization will have control over funds; how to resolve SAG’s lack of oversight on talent agents; and which org will have the power to set policy and settle disputes.

Other concerns

“There are a number of questions that it appears are not going to be answered until we have to vote on this on April 12 and 13,” said SAG treasurer Kent McCord. “For example, I’m concerned creating the new umbrella organization will put another layer of bureaucracy between executives and members.”

McCord was also distressed that SAG has not yet corrected the $6 million deficit figure on its Web site as part of a presentation posted last week to show that SAG and AFTRA are operating in the red. Although the number was derived from a projected budget for its fiscal year ending April 30, a subsequent budget distributed to the SAG finance committee shows a deficit of $2.3 million.

“Not correcting the deficit number raises the question of what else may not be correct in their campaign,” McCord said.

Since the boards approved the principles of merger on Feb. 8, the merger committee has changed the plan in ways that are likely to cool opposition, such as eliminating delegate election of the president and secretary-treasurer of the umbrella union in favor of direct election; boosting the size of the umbrella board from 25 to 35, with increased representation for actors; basing the new union in Los Angeles; and giving each affiliate a directly elected treasurer rather than an appointed finance committee.

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