SAG, AFTRA leaders approve merger

Dreyfuss, Robertson lend fame, praise to plan

Mailboxes and email inboxes of SAG and AFTRA members will fill up next week when the unions launch their pro-merger campaign.

The unions will send packages by the end of this week of what’s expected to be around 100 pages of documents — four constitutions plus a summary and the consolidation agreement — to 98,000 SAG members and 77,000 AFTRA members. The 40,000 thesps who are members of both unions will receive a package from both.

Move was triggered as both boards on Sunday overwhelmingly approved the formation of a new umbrella org, the Alliance of Intl. Media Artists, with affiliates for actors, broadcasters and recording artists.

Leaders of the orgs held a news conference Monday with statements from high-profile members offering praise for the plan and stressing the need to more effectively rep performers amid corporate consolidation.

“This plan increases our power by a factor of 10,” said Richard Dreyfuss, who, along with Cliff Robertson, is one of two Oscar winners on the SAG board. “In a new world, morphing at an incredible speed and (amid) corporate irresponsibility, consolidation is the strong and right thing to do.”

The campaign — which has been aided by the AFL-CIO and GMMB political consultants — also repeated previous warnings that actors will lose power if they vote the merger down.

SAG board member James Cromwell, referring to the current deficits of SAG and AFTRA, said, “Our unions are in crisis. The proposed constitutions for the creation of a new union through consolidation are the only way to diffuse this crisis. If the membership votes this proposal up, we take the first step toward respect and empowerment. If not, we do not have a union.”

SAG board member Barbara Bosson noted that the merger will save money and retain the traditional names of the two unions. “Through the three affiliates SAG, AFTRA and AFRA we have preserved our individual identities while allowing AIMA to potentially become far greater than either SAG or AFTRA was or could ever be alone.”

Merger backers have studiously avoided using the word “merger” in order to differentiate this proposal from a 1999 merger that failed when only 46% of SAG members supported the deal. Ballots for the new plan will go out in June; more than 60% of both SAG and AFTRA voters have to approve the plan for the new union to be created.

The unions held a news conference Monday at AFTRA’s headquarters in Los Angeles with SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert and AFTRA president John Connolly formally signing the consolidation agreement and the four constitutions. Along with SAG CEO Bob Pisano and AFTRA national exec director Greg Hessinger, they highlighted specific benefits of the deal:

  • Elimination of uncertainty about jurisdiction.

  • Better leverage at contract negotiations. Currently, SAG and AFTRA jointly bargain on the actors’ film-TV and commercial contracts.

  • Improved ability to deal with runaway production by assuring that employers offer union contracts to members on productions shot outside the United States if those productions are aimed for distribution in the United States. SAG calculated last year that such non-union runaway productions had led to a $23 million shortfall in producer contributions to SAG’s pension and health plan over five years.

  • Taking advantage of the current window of opportunity to combine operations in order to deal more effectively with the continuing consolidation of the congloms that employ actors, broadcasters and recording artists.
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