David White to remain in post as union pushes AFTRA merger

David White, the top exec at the Screen Actors Guild for the past three years, is signed to remain in that post until at least 2014 — whether or not SAG merges with the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists.

A SAG spokesperson had said Wednesday that its national board had voted earlier this year to extend White’s contract as national exec director into 2015 but later revised that information to say that the extension would be into 2014. The guild had not disclosed previously the extension and did not reveal salary terms.

SAG leaders are in the midst of hammering out a merger plan with AFTRA and have not yet decided on the role that White — and his AFTRA counterpart Kim Roberts Hedgpeth — would play in a combined union. Reps of the performer unions have scheduled eight days of meetings starting Jan. 7 to sort out details of a possible final proposal that’s scheduled to be submitted to the national boards at the end of January.

Other details of the merger proposal haven’t been revealed yet including the name of the new union, constitution, financing, entry requirements and dues. But it appears White’s likely to play some kind of leadership role in a merger, given that he’s managed to forge a solid relationship with the guild’s national board, in contrast to his immediate predecessors.

White was tapped as interim national exec director in early 2009 when the national board’s self-styled moderates ousted Doug Allen amid frustration over Allen’s failure to reach a deal with the majors on a primetime-feature master contract. Allen, a longtime exec with the National Football League Players Assn., had been tapped for the SAG post in the wake of the 2005 ouster of Greg Hessinger by the SAG board, when the self-styled progressives of the Membership First coalition came to power.

In October 2009, the SAG moderates removed White’s interim tag and gave him a two-year deal as he closed agreements on a half a dozen contracts and operated in a low-key manner that contrasted sharply with Allen’s brash approach. White’s initial contract, which ran through February 2012, elevated him into the chief negotiator post; he headed the SAG bargaining team for seven weeks in the fall of 2010, leading to a three-year successor deal on the feature-primetime contract.

In his nine months as interim SAG chief, White oversaw cuts of about 35 staff slots as a result of a budgetary deficit. Since then, in addition to pushing for merger, he’s also moved to heighten SAG’s commitment to upgrading its technology.

White served as the guild’s general counsel from 2002-06 before becoming managing principal of Los Angeles-based Entertainment Strategies Group. He was a labor and employment attorney at O’Melveny & Myers before joining SAG in 2002.

According to SAG’s filing of its LM-2 form with the U.S. Dept. of Labor, White was paid a salary of $452,877 plus disbursements of $21,060 during SAG’s fiscal year ended April 30. Roberts Hedgpeth, who’s topped AFTRA since 2005, was paid $375,560 for the same period.

Jay Roth, who’s headed the Directors Guild of America since 1995, has the top exec salary at $736,430 in the DGA’s filing for 2010. David Young, who’s headed the WGA West since 2005, was paid $461,730 for the fiscal year ended March 31; Lowell Peterson, WGA East topper since 2008, received $253,834 in the most recent fiscal year.

As for the possible SAG-AFTRA merger, the unions have been hush-hush but using the word “productive” to describe the four rounds of formal discussions by the AFTRA and SAG Group for One Union. Proponents have argued that a combined union would be more powerful and remove jurisdictional overlaps; opponents contend that the new union should be for actors only, but SAG voters have been backing pro-merger candidates overwhelmingly in recent elections.

Should the proposal be approved by the national boards, members would be asked to OK the merger as early as this spring in a contest that would require 60% of those voting in each union to approve. SAG currently has about 120,000 members while AFTRA has about 70,000, with about 45,000 performers belonging to both unions.

SAG members defeated merger proposals in 1999 and 2003. Merger was supported by 58% of those voting in the 2003 contest, when the combined union was to be called the Alliance of Intl. Media Artists.

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