Regional units endorse idea of single union for actors

In a preliminary step toward merging SAG and AFTRA, leaders of the Screen Actors Guild’s regional branch division have endorsed the idea of creating a single union to cover all performers.

Directors of the guild’s 20 regional branches backed concept during their weekend meeting in Washington D.C. SAG president Ken Howard and Secretary Treasurer Amy Aquino attended. SAG made the announcement Monday.

“The Regional Branch Division of Screen Actors Guild is the vital and important voice of our membership in the branches,” Howard said. “I’m pleased that they so strongly endorsed the idea of one union for all performers.”

The regional branches represent about 15% of SAG’s 120,000 members. About 60% are repped by the Hollywood division and 25% by the New York branch.

Howard was elected last fall on a pro-merger platform. At present, there have been no formal steps taken between SAG and AFTRA to take another run at merging.

The American Federation of Television & Radio Artists has more than 70,000 members. About 45,000 members belong to both unions.

Howard’s strongly backed a merger in the current issue of SAG Actor magazine, which also contains a report from the SAG/AFTRA relations task force that concludes, “By combining our strengths, we can adapt and thrive in a shifting marketplace.”

Members of both unions must approve any merger by over 60% of those casting ballots. SAG members derailed merger votes in 1999 and 2003 with opponents contending that SAG would lose its unique identity as an actors union and citing the difficulties in combining the health and retirement funds.

AFTRA’s top officers launched a renewed campaign in April to create a single performers union with national scope.

In 2008, open warfare broke out between SAG and AFTRA as the two negotiated separate contracts for primetime TV work for the first time in nearly 30 years — leading to AFTRA reaching a deal a year earlier than SAG and signing nearly all new TV series. The two unions have mended fences since and will jointly negotiate the primetime deal starting in October.

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