Unions turn to teleconferencing as end-run around Irene

Despite Hurricane Irene, leaders of showbiz performer unions have continued meeting to craft a merger plan.

Reps of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists met via teleconference Saturday at SAG headquarters in Los Angeles and New York in the second of four confabs to hammer out the details of a merger proposal.

The teleconference was a substitute for a three-day face-to-face meeting that had been set to take place starting Saturday. It’s uncertain if teleconference meetings will take place on Sunday and Monday.

SAG’s national board approved spending $2.2 million last month on the merger process.

Reps of SAG and AFTRA met for three days in June in Silver Spring, Md., at the National Labor College in the first of four confabs with the aim of delivering a merger plan by January to their respective national boards.

No date’s been set yet for the vote by the 70,000 members of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists and the 120,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild. But the target is for a merger plan to be delivered to the two national boards by January.

The unions still haven’t sorted out such thorny issues as the name of the combined union, dues structure and governance — all of which could provide ammunition for opponents. More than 60% of those voting in both unions must approve for the deal to go through.

At the June meeting, the reps established work groups on governance and structure; finance and dues; collective bargaining, pension, health and retirement; operations and staff; and member education and outreach.

A member vote could take place by spring 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 long-standing 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.

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