HOLLYWOOD — Having failed to gather enough votes to issue a minority report to the entire Screen Actors Guild membership, a small but vocal band of celebrity opponents to the SAG/AFTRA merger gathered to take their case to the media Wednesday morning.
Standing in front of SAG’s headquarters, the self-dubbed ‘Save SAG’ crowd included, among others, former SAG prexy William Daniels, Rob Schneider, Tyne Daly, current SAG treasurer Kent McCord, Diane Ladd and Sally Kirkland. All pledged support for a merger, but contended the current proposal would be bad news for working actors.
Daniels said they had turned up to “temper the hasty rush to submerge SAG” into the as-yet unborn Alliance of Intl. Media Artists, an affiliation of unions that would include SAG and AFTRA, as well as recording artists union AFRA.
There are 98,000 SAG members and 77,000 AFTRA members, with 40,000 performers who are members of both unions. This overlap is of principal concern to Daniels and his cohorts. They contend that while the new union’s 35-seat leadership council would guarantee 25 of its seats to actors, nevertheless broadcasters or recording artists who are also SAG members could qualify for some of those seats and favor their primary means of creative expression and income.
On Monday, the principles of consolidation were signed by SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert and AFTRA prexy John Connolly, but it will take at least 60% of both SAG and AFTRA voters to approve the plan for the new union to be created.
Daniels painted a doomsday scenario wherein Britney Spears could ascend to the leadership of the new union. Calling the merger process thus far “disingenuous, dishonest and deceitful under any circumstances,” Daniels said he sought a 90-day review period for the general membership to scrutinize the proposed deal.
Inside the SAG headquarters, the union’s first vice president, Mike Farrell, sat with board member James Cromwell and Armin Shimerman, a member of the SAG/AFTRA relations task force that proposed the merger. All three professed wonderment at what the concern was about.
“Seventy-one percent of the new union would be made up of our union,” Farrell said, “so if anything, it’s the recording artists and broadcasters who should be quaking in their boots.”
He added: ” ‘What if Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings ran the union?’ Please. The actor’s majority would not be affected by even the most bizarre extrapolation of that concept.”
The hotly worded debate comes at a time that both unions are facing budgetary shortfalls.
Cromwell pointed out that both SAG and AFTRA are running substantial deficits, with SAG’s estimated to be anywhere from $6 million to $3.5 million, and AFTRA’s roughly $2 million.
“There are economies of scale that come from a merger,” Cromwell said, “and a merger will reduce the deficit.”
SAG national treasurer McCord disputes the categorization that SAG’s finances are in crisis.
“What they’re saying about the condition of our finances ignores the fact that SAG spent $700,000 to sell the members on the (now failed) ATA deal and $1.6 million on (publicizing) this deal,” McCord said. “We’ve cut spending, so when you take those items out, we’re in the black.”