Thesp chiefs tout tie-up

60% of voters in each union must approve merger

SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert and AFTRA president John Connolly predicted Monday that the heavily contested proposal to combine the performers’ unions will win approval.

The pair made the assertion at a news conference at SAG’s Hollywood headquarters after spending the past week pitching the “consolidation and affiliation” plan to members, including a similar June 10 event in Gotham. At least 60% of voters in each union must approve the deal for it to go through; only 46% of SAG voters supported a merger in 1999.

“Once members can see the bigger picture, the response has been very positive,” Gilbert declared. “I anticipate a positive outcome because I’m hearing positive things.”

Connolly echoed Gilbert, asserting, “The members see the sense of it. The instinct for unity will overcome the instinct for fear.”

If the deal is voted up, it will create an umbrella Alliance of Intl. Media Artists with affiliates for actors, broadcasters and recording artists. Advocates of the deal argue that it will give actors more clout in negotiations and solve the dispute over which union covers digital shoots for TV; opponents contend the new structure will dilute SAG’s power and be less responsive to thesp needs.

Catching up with times

Gilbert asserted that the current union structure is outdated, adding, “We’ve been talking about this for 60 years and now we’re running to catch up.”

Monday’s event, coming two weeks before the 175,000 ballots are due, was the final organized pro-deal event, with high-profile supporters attending including Stephen Collins, Tyne Daly, Nanette Fabray, Morgan Fairchild, Mike Farrell, Michael Gross, Christopher Lloyd, Peter MacNichol, David Hyde Pierce, Pamela Reed, Marion Ross and Loretta Swit. Connolly also read a message of support from Tom Hanks.

Speakers acknowledged the volatile response the vote has provoked among thesps, with Collins quipping, “If SAG were to vote on immortality, 20% would vote against it.”

Pierce said deal opponents have not adjusted their thinking to changing circumstances. “Opposing this is like a French person standing in front of a McDonald’s on the Champs Elysee and saying they oppose globalization,” he added.

Daly, who originally opposed the proposal, urged members to avoid sentimentality for the current structure, adding, “Change is incredibly difficult.”

Naysayers vocal

After the news conference, opponents held a counter-news conference outside SAG headquarters in front of their mobile “Vote no” billboard, with Karen Black, Valerie Harper, Anne-Marie Johnson and Martin Landau. Speakers cited the uncertainty of using the deal as a springboard to merge the two unions’ pension and health plans and asserted the new structure will remove current execs and leaders from member concerns.

“I love Tom Brokaw, but he and I have very little in common,” Landau declared. “So many things are unresolved in this proposal. SAG and AFTRA are like apples and pears.”

Harper, who voted against the deal as a board member, criticized the promotional push for “glossing over” problems with the proposal. “It’s like an ad campaign for Budweiser, as if they’re trying to open a bad movie before the reviews get out,” she added.

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