New Union Committee to develop agreement, structure of union merger

Leaders of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have taken a key step toward a merger with the Screen Actors Guild, clearing a hurdle for a possible member vote within the next 12 months.

Mirroring the move by SAG’s national board on April 30, AFTRA’s national board “overwhelmingly” passed a resolution approving the appointment of the AFTRA New Union Committee to work with the SAG Merger Task Force no later than June 30 to hammer out the merger plan. Resolution specifies that the committee develop a merger agreement, a constitution and a national dues structure for presentation to AFTRA’s national board by the end of January.

That could lead to a member vote by this time next year by the 120,000 members of SAG and the 70,000 members of AFTRA — with 45,000 members belonging to both. Merging SAG and AFTRA isn’t guaranteed, particularly among the 120,000 members on the SAG side, despite arguments that a combined union would be stronger and resolve longstanding jurisdictional problems.

Approval requires a 60% super-majority from those voting in both unions. SAG members rebuffed similar efforts in 1998 and 2003 amid concerns that a merger would cause SAG to lose its unique character as an actors union and that a combo could negatively impact the health and pension plans. Leaders still haven’t sorted out what to call the new entity, a key consideration that could derail the vote given that the moniker chosen in 2003 — the Alliance of International Media Artists — never appeared to gain much traction.

AFTRA’s New Union Committee will be chaired by president Roberta Reardon and consist of 13 committee members and 16 alternates. The national board also approved the same mission statement for the new successor union that SAG’s national board OK’d at the April 30 meeting.

Reardon — whose signature issue for the past three years has been merger — contended Saturday that performers have told her and SAG president Ken Howard on their “listening tour” that members want one union, not two. “The tour confirms what AFTRA has known since 1937: entertainment and news media professionals are stronger standing together and, overwhelmingly, AFTRA members want one new union,” she said Saturday in a statement. “I look forward to moving this process forward into the next stage where we will now work with our sisters and brothers at Screen Actors Guild to build a new union for a new world.”

Reardon also tied support of the merger vote to the need to oppose the recent moves by Republicans to enact legislation limiting the power of public employees.

“In recent months, we have witnessed a spectacular and unprecedented attack on public workers in this country,” she said. “Today, they are coming after school teachers, cops and nurses, but tomorrow they will come after us. From Madison to Miami and from Los Angeles to New York, AFTRA members stood up for their fellow union members. These attacks offer yet another compelling reason why we must unite our two unions so that we grow as one and we grow stronger to build real power for our members.”

The strong support for merger by the SAG and AFTRA boards contrasts sharply 2007 and 2008, when the self-styled progressives of Membership First controlled the SAG board. That led to separate negotiations with the majors between the two unions. SAG’s talks were prolonged for more than a year, allowing AFTRA to cut a deal and expand its coverage of primetime skeins that would otherwise likely have been done under SAG contracts.

Membership First campaigned last year on a platform of supporting a merger, but only if the new union were limited to actors and excluded the broadcasters, journalists and recording artists now covered by AFTRA. That message fell flat among SAG members as the 28-candidate Membership First slate failed to win a single national board seat, leaving the faction with fewer than a dozen seats on the 71-member panel.

Howard congratulated Reardon and AFTRA in a statement Saturday. “I want to thank and congratulate Roberta Reardon and the AFTRA National Board for making this commitment to bring our unions together.” he said. “Our members want SAG and AFTRA to merge — they’ve made it clear. I’m looking forward to working together to deliver what our members need.”

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