Duo has haggled over jurisdiction since 1938
They’ve been talking about a merger for 70 years, so how did the SAG-AFTRA kinship turn into animosity?
Well, actually, the relationship has always been tense, but it’s been a long time since the two exchanged angry threats of lawsuits. You’d have to go back 50 years to match the current level of hostility.
Then, as now, the key issue was jurisdiction.
The idea of a SAG merger with the American Federation of Radio Artists came up in 1938. A decade later, as TV was starting to boom, union officials again began discussions. SAG attempted to keep jurisdiction over TV that was filmed by the motion picture studios, leading AFTRA to bring a series of cases before the National Labor Relations Board. The dispute was resolved by leaving live presentation to AFTRA.
In 1956, AFTRA went to the networks and obtained an agreement giving it jurisdiction over tape.
That angered SAG, which alleged AFTRA had acted in secret and given up crucial protections to the producers. AFTRA said the two unions needed to merge but SAG passed a resolution that it was officially opposed to merger after guild president Walter Pidgeon blasted AFTRA.
“This action by AFTRA baldly violated the basic motion picture jurisdiction of the Screen Actors Guild and is indefensible both legally and morally,” Pidgeon said.
Pidgeon added, “Had we succumbed to AFTRA’s arguments and pressures years ago, in all probability there would be little employement for actors in (filmed TV fare) today.”
The merger idea was raised again after the actors’ strike in 1980 when both sides began to look at linking through three steps. They initiated Phase I, a plan to jointly negotiate contracts where they had common interests, but never got to Phase II, under which they would hold joint board meetings, or the Phase III total merger.
Instead, AFTRA declared last year that SAG had abrogated Phase I by trying to implement block voting for the members of its negotiating team. SAG published a 12-page article in its official magazine detailing how AFTRA’s deals were undercutting SAG.
Now SAG (which has 120,000 members) has fired a shot at AFTRA (with 70,000 members) by urging 44,000 dual cardholders to vote down AFTRA’s primetime deal.
“AFTRA has now abandoned us to make their own deal to the potential detriment of actors,” SAG president Alan Rosenberg declared June 9 at a SAG rally that evoked boos and catcalls every time AFTRA was mentioned.
Predictably, AFTRA is outraged, threatening legal action and accusing SAG of lying.
With fuel now being poured on the fire, a SAG-AFTRA marriage now looks about as likely as gasoline at $1 a gallon.