Inside Move: SAG, AFTRA’s dramatic pause

Guilds eye uneasy roles post-vote

What will SAG do for an encore?

After SAG members spurned the much-hyped proposal to merge with AFTRA, Hollywood is collectively scratching its head and wondering what hot spots will flare up next among the two unions.

Uncertainty lingers in these key areas:

  • Negotiations: With the current commercials contract expiring Oct. 29, SAG and AFTRA are scheduled to jointly negotiate a new pact in the coming months. But given the divisive merger campaign, SAG won’t be able to present itself as unified, unlike three years ago when it went on strike for six months.

Fears have emerged that AFTRA might try to shore up its finances by cutting a separate deal with advertisers at lower rates or that SAG might poach AFTRA’s jurisdiction on soaps.

But SAG CEO Bob Pisano and AFTRA national exec director Greg Hessinger deny that prospect, asserting that the 1981 “Phase One” agreement that set up joint bargaining remains in effect.

  • Leadership: Merger advocate Melissa Gilbert seeks a second term against merger foe Kent McCord, who claims the “yes” vote would have been far lower without avid campaigning by SAG staff. Two dozen board seats are up in this election, so count on typically raucous campaigns.

  • Finances: SAG and AFTRA committed $2.75 million to push the merger, and both admit they were operating at deficits of at least $2 million. Plans to close branches as a cost-cutting measure have been put on hold. Opponents are bitter that the funds weren’t spent on organizing and contract enforcement.

  • Pension and health plans: SAG and AFTRA members are paying premiums for their plans for the first time ever; one-third of eligible SAG members opted out. Soaring healthcare costs will likely force SAG and AFTRA to seek hikes in producer contributions, but that means foregoing contract gains elsewhere.

  • Pro-merger forces are already clamoring for another vote, with AFTRA prexy John Connolly proclaiming, “By hook and by crook the stubby tail has wagged the big dog … for now, but not forever.”

    All this uncertainty is unlikely to dissipate soon, as SAG and AFTRA face expiration of their film-TV contract next June 30. Pisano and Hessinger, who have been touting the cooperation achieved during the merger campaign, have their work cut out for them.

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