SAG gets AFL-CIO merger help

Poll set to uncover members' opinions on umbrella union

HOLLYWOOD — Consolidation, take two!

Seeking to resuscitate the just-barely failed April proposal to merge the Screen Actors Guild membership with its performer brethren in AFTRA, SAG has sought the financial assistance of the AFL-CIO.

The AFL-CIO will pay for a new poll of the SAG membership that will seek to discover their feelings — good and bad — about the creation of a new umbrella performers union. The polling could begin as early as midweek.

Before the poll can begin, though, SAG’s elected leadership must first do some outreach work within its own national board. Plans call for a meeting today to vet the poll questions with David Jolliffe, a leader in the Membership First merger opposition group and a former national SAG VP.

Said SAG secretary-treasurer James Cromwell, “We want to make sure they feel represented on the survey and that the poll’s questions address the issues they have.”

Jolliffe is expected to name three additions to the Consolidation and Affiliation committee to best represent the voice of the opposition.

Two summit seshes

There will also be two summit meetings this week. One will include Jolliffe, Kent McCord and other Membership First members wherein the opposition will bring their objections to SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert and CEO Bob Pisano and to AFTRA prexy John Connolly and national exec director Greg Hessinger.

The second meeting will call for former SAG prexies Ed Asner and Kathleen Nolan and national deputy exec director Sallie Weaver to be invited to have their questions answered as well.

“The idea is that after the return of the survey from the membership, we can send out a document that is as close as possible to unanimity on the board that this is the direction that needs to be taken,” Cromwell said.

The support of AFL-CIO prexy John Sweeney is somewhat unsurprising, as he’d originally issued a strong statement of support for the merger in February.

Prexy has backed mergers

More, during Sweeney’s eight-year tenure at the AFL-CIO, he has advocated similar mergers among other unions in order to give the merged entities greater negotiating heft and operational efficiency. Indeed, Sweeney has publicly expressed a hope that a SAG/AFTRA merger would lead to even more consolidation among performers, including the absorption of Actors Equity and the American Federation of Musicians.

Merger advocates have contended that the combo of the unions — which have 40,000 dual cardholders and a combined total of 135,000 thesps, broadcasters and recording artists — would solve the jurisdictional dispute in TV programs shot on digital along with leading to greater power and more efficiency. Opponents contended that SAG would lose its identity and that a combined org would not serve the specific needs of actors as well.

SAG and AFTRA boards formally approved the merger plan last April, triggering a referendum vote under which AFTRA members endorsed it by a 76% rate. But the deal was derailed as only 58% of SAG members approved amid concerns that the deal overly benefited AFTRA.

For the deal to pass, both orgs need to approve the deal by at least 60% of those voting.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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