AFTRA board to meet Saturday; approval would trigger Feb. 27 vote by members

The pending marriage between the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists has moved a step closer.

SAG’s national board has approved a merger proposal with 87% of the panel OKing the plan, SAG announced Friday night. The proposal goes to AFTRA’s board, which meets Saturday and if AFTRA leaders approve, it would trigger a vote by SAG and AFTRA members starting Feb. 27 with tabulation on March 30.

Merger opponents on the SAG board were unable to meet the 25% threshold that would have required that a minority report be issued in the balloting material.

But a source with knowledge of the situation said the board had agreed to include an opposition statement in the ballot materials. SAG had no comment.

Should the AFTRA national board approve, the proposal will be sent to 120,000 SAG members and 70,000 AFTRA members, who include actors, broadcasters, DJs, singers and dancers. To pass, the referendum would need a 60% approval margin from both orgs among votes cast.

The new union will be called SAG-AFTRA, should members approve the merger vote.

SAG members defeated merger proposals in 1999 and 2003 while AFTRA members supported both. In 2003, the merged union would have been called the Alliance of Intl. Media Artists, which may have been a factor in the defeat.

Key details of the proposal will undoubtedly be touted by SAG persident Ken Howard during Sunday’s SAG Awards ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The SAG prexy traditionally gives an on-air speech during the kudocast.

Howard and AFTRA president Roberta Reardon have made the merger of the two unions their signature issue and received strong support from members in recent elections.

The merger proposal was hammered out at a nine-day meeting earlier this month by the AFTRA and SAG Group for One Union to work out details such as a name, governance, financing, membership requirements and dues. That group had met five times since June.

SAG’s elected leadership has been dominated in recent years by those in favor of a merger, who contend that a combined union would be more powerful and remove jurisdictional overlaps. Opponents within SAG, whose influence has waned in recent years, contend that SAG should remain for actors only and assert that the new union will face problems in attempting to combine the health and retirement plans.

SAG and AFTRA share jurisdiction on primetime TV. After years of bitter disputes, AFTRA split from SAG on joint bargaining in 2008 and negotiated a separate deal a full year before SAG reached an accord — leading to producers opting to sign with AFTRA for nearly all new shows.

Howard contends that members of SAG and AFTRA want to combine unions to then resolve the dilemma of seeing pension and health contributions go into separate SAG and AFTRA plans, which are operated by joint industry-union boards. Howard was handily re-elected to a second two-year term in September.

Should the proposed SAG-AFTRA merger pass, annual elections will be a thing of the past with the contests taking place every two years instead. The plan is aimed at combining SAG’s annual direct voting structure for some offices with other slots filled using AFTRA’s national convention structure, held every two years with delegates elected at the local level.

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