SAG may try merger again

Pisano did not give timetable, process for next attempt

Don’t write off a SAG-AFTRA merger just yet.

SAG CEO Bob Pisano — chief architect of the merger plan — believes the closeness of Tuesday’s vote is a signal to keep moving toward combining the performers unions.

By a slim margin of only 1,280 votes, SAG members spurned a proposed combination with AFTRA in results announced late Tuesday night. Pisano has considerable optimism that pro-merger sentiment pervades SAG.

“Yes” votes, which totaled 33,626, were just 2% shy of the required 60%. “No” votes totaled 24,550.

“SAG members want this, so we have to find a way to do this,” he told Daily Variety. “We received 58% support, which is far more than last time.”

The 1999 merger vote was easily defeated by SAG with just 19,419 yes votes, compared with 21,745 no votes.

Pisano did not indicate what timetable or process he would follow in pushing for some form of combining the nation’s two largest performers’ unions. The defeat came despite an ardent campaign by the unions that stressed the need to effectively respond to consolidation on the mega-conglom side.

Pisano’s interpretation of the results was at odds with that of opponents, who portrayed the defeat as a reflection of members’ uncertainty over the merger. “Pisano obviously does not have his hand on the pulse of the members, who are the ultimate authority,” said SAG treasurer Kent McCord, who led the SaveSAG opposition.

McCord also said he will propose at the upcoming SAG national board meeting that the SAG constitution be amended to raise the voting threshold for restructuring the Guild from the current 60% to 66.7%. The higher figure would have been enacted for the new Alliance of Intl. Media Artists had the merger proposal gone through.

“That’s the only part of the proposal that I agreed with,” McCord noted.

If voters had approved, the new AIMA would have been formed with affiliates for actors, broadcasters and recording artists.

AIMA was also expected to start merging with other performers orgs such as Actors Equity, which reps about 40,000 theater performers and had endorsed the SAG-AFTRA combo. Earlier this week, Equity and the American Guild of Musical Artists announced a two-year pact to resolve jurisdictional disputes and explore merging those orgs.

“Although we are disappointed with the outcome of the consolidation referendum, we applaud the attempt by both SAG and AFTRA to bring this decades-old dream to fruition,” said Equity prexy Patrick Quinn. “Actors Equity will continue to cooperate with our sister unions in every way possible to improve conditions for all of our members.”

The loss also muddies the outlook for SAG on several fronts — at upcoming contract negotiations, where it will have to overcome the appearances of a lack of unity and a leadership that’s suspect in terms of reflecting the desires of SAG rank-and-file members; a potential jurisdictional brawl between SAG and AFTRA over TV shows shot on digital; and with an upcoming national election for president, secretary and treasurer along with one-third of the national board seats.

Proponents, led by SAG prexy Gilbert, claimed that combining SAG and AFTRA would lead to greater bargaining clout and operating efficiencies along with resolving jurisdictional disputes. But opponents were able to sow enough doubt about the deal on several fronts with allegations that SAG’s status would be significantly diminished under the new structure; that the new org would be less responsive to the unique needs of actors; and that plans to subsequently merge the SAG and AFTRA health plans would be damaging to SAG participants.

Asner influence

SAG insiders also said Wednesday an 11th hour mailing from former SAG prexy Ed Asner, expressing doubts about the merger’s merits and unresolved questions, swayed significant numbers of thesps to vote “No.” “I find that this whole process of merger has been a fog of the blind leading the unknowing,” Asner wrote. “I pray that the god of Actors smiles upon us, a rare thing these days.”

With the merger voted down, SAG will now hold its own national election with petitions due July 24, ballots mailed Aug. 26 and results announced Sept. 23. SAG and AFTRA are scheduled to begin bargaining with the ad industry Sept. 3, with the current contract expiring Oct. 29.

Ira Shepard, the ad industry’s chief negotiator, said the defeat of the merger proposal would not impact on the negotiations. “And since SAG and AFTRA have historically negotiated jointly with us, I would not have expected a significant impact if the referendum had been approved,” he added.

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