Future mergers could be OKd without direct member vote

Future union mergers are going to become far easier if the proposed combo of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists goes through.

SAG and AFTRA will mail out ballots on Feb. 27 to 120,000 SAG members and 70,000 AFTRA members, who include actors, broadcasters, DJs, singers and dancers, with a tabulation date of March 30. To be approved, the merger must receive at least 60% of the votes from each union.

Should that merger agreement be approved, new mergers would have to be approved by the 60% of the voting membership or by 60% of the delegates of the new SAG-AFTRA. That means future combos with such performer unions as Actors Equity would not be subject to direct approval by the members of SAG-AFTRA.

That’s a key provision within the proposal, since a previous merger was derailed in 2003 by SAG members. In that contest, 58% of SAG voters backed the proposal — less than 2,000 votes short of meeting the 60% requirement.

The first convention with elected delegates of the new SAG-AFTRA would be held in September 2013. In response to the question of changing the requirements for future merger approvals, SAG and AFTRA said in a statement that the process remains a democratic one.

“Convention delegates are members, who are duly elected by members to represent them,” SAG and AFTRA said. “A vote by convention is a vote by the membership. Democracy can take many forms, particularly when an important question requires informed democracy. Additionally, the language already exists in the AFTRA constitution.”

Merger proponents have long asserted that combining unions is a logical response to the increasing power of the mega-conglomerates and contended that the combined unions will have more bargaining clout. Merger opponents, who lost power at SAG in recent years, have argued that SAG will lose its unique character as a performers union and that the combined entity won’t have more power at the negotiating table.

In 2003, the merged union would have been called the Alliance of Intl. Media Artists, which may have been a factor in the defeat.

The Actors Equity Council unanimously backed the “consolidation and affiliation” proposal in 2003. Approximately two-thirds of Equity’s 45,000 members are also in SAG and/or AFTRA. The American Federation of Musicians and the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees also endorsed the 2003 merger plan.

SAG national board approved the merger proposal on Jan. 27 and AFTRA’s board followed the next day. The unions posted the merger documents on their sites last week and will begin holding member meetings about the merger on Thursday.

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