SAG, AFTRA vote result nears

As of Friday afternoon, separate unions may exist no longer

By Friday afternoon, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists may disappear as separate entities — and be replaced by a merged SAG-AFTRA.

Results of the month-long vote among 130,000 performers are set to be revealed at 1 p.m. PDT at SAG headquarters in Los Angeles, with SAG president Ken Howard and AFTRA president Roberta Reardon making the announcement.

Merger backers are hoping the third time is a charm for their campaign to combine the performers unions, which requires backing of 60% of those casting votes from each union. Although SAG voters have strongly backed pro-merger candidates in recent years, SAG members turned down mergers in 1998 and 2003, when the margin was only 1,280 votes, or 2% short of the required 60%.

In that election, anti-merger forces contended that the merger would diminish SAG’s role as an actors union and create problems with the pension and health plans. The proposed moniker of the merged unions — The Alliance of International Media Artists — may have also contributed to its defeat.

Should a merger be approved, the new SAG-AFTRA would immediately replace the two unions, with Howard and Reardon becoming co-presidents and a single SAG-AFTRA national board formed by combining the two national boards. The first elections for the new unions will be held within 45 days of the first convention, which must be held by September 2013.

Howard and Reardon have campaigned extensively for the past three years on the issue, asserting that the combo will increase bargaining strength and represent a first step toward solving the problem of performers not qualifying for coverage under separate SAG and AFTRA health and pension plans.

The SAG anti-merger forces sustained a court defeat Wednesday when a federal judge refused to grant a preliminary injunction to block the vote count, alleging that the guild hasn’t adhered to its rules in sending out the proposal to members. Plaintiffs in the suit included board members Martin Sheen and Ed Harris and former presidents Kathleen Nolan, Ed Asner and Alan Rosenberg.

The merger has been endorsed by over 2,050 members, including George Clooney, Robert DeNiro, Danny DeVito and Tom Hanks.

Both sides have agreed on one issue: pension and health remains the key concern raised by members. Merger backers assert that a SAG-AFTRA combo would increase bargaining strength and represent a first step toward solving the problem of performers not qualifying for coverage under separate SAG and AFTRA health and pension plans.

But opponents have complained that SAG never performed an actuarial study on the impact of merging the separate pension and health plans. SAG plan trustee Robert Carlson contended that merging the SAG and AFTRA plans would create a “staggering” burden — and in a move that underlined the bitterness between SAG’s political factions, SAG’s Hollywood board removed Carlson from the post earlier this week.

SAG currently has 120,000 members while AFTRA has 70,000, including deejays, broadcasters and musicians. About 40,000 thesps belong to both unions.

About 30 protesters staged a demonstration Thursday afternoon outside the SAG pension and health offices in Burbank, protesting the removal of Carlson and calling for the resignation of chief executive Bruce Dow. The plans were sued last week by former exec Craig Simmons, alleging he was fired a year ago for reporting illegal conduct by Dow and other plan execs.

The unions will live stream the announcement at their campaign website.

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