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AFM endorses SAG-AFTRA merger

Union prez looks forward to working with new, stronger partner

Backers of the proposed SAG-AFTRA merger have received the blessing of the American Federation of Musicians, the third showbiz union to endorse the deal.

The announcement by AFM, which reps 110,000 musicians, is a strong indication that the org is a likely candidate to be merged into the new Alliance of Intl. Media Artists umbrella union. Although SAG and AFTRA leaders have expressed support for such a move, AFM had taken no official position until Wednesday.

“As we know from our common experience, the issues facing performers today cross traditional jurisdictional boundaries and involve their unions in a wide range of concerns, expanding from traditional bargaining to include international trade, international and local legislation and global industrialization,” said AFM prexy Thomas Lee.

“AFM hails the consolidation of SAG and AFTRA as a forward-looking response to these realities. We look forward to continuing our common work with the new, stronger partner that will be created by the consolidation.”

AFM and AFTRA have significant overlap on jurisdictions. AFM covers musicians who play instruments, such as Kenny G, while AFTRA covers recording artists such as Barbra Streisand; but “hummer strummers” who do both are covered by both unions.

AFM’s specific jurisdiction includes featured recording artists, non-featured session musicians in the recording, motion picture and commercial announcement industries and live performers. AFTRA’s coverage includes sound recordings on vinyl, CDs and cassettes and includes all music formats as well as books on tape, cast albums and any other sound recording utilizing vocal performance.

Previous endorsements of the merger have come from Actors Equity, which has 40,000 members, and the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which reps about 100,000 below-the-line crafts employees. SAG has 98,000 members and AFTRA reps 77,000; 44,000 thesps belong to both.

Should the merger go through, both Equity and AFM are expected to seek a merger into the new AIMA. Ballots for the merger — which will create affiliates for actors, broadcasters and recording artists — go out to members June 9.

The boards of both unions overwhelmingly approved the deal last month, swayed by arguments that SAG and AFTRA need to combine forces to more effectively contend with the power of media congloms. The merger — dubbed “consolidation and affiliation” — must be approved by 60% of voters in both unions.

“Our musicians work hand-in-hand with AFTRA’s vocalists, announcers, on-air performers and newspersons, and with SAG’s actors, dancers and other performers,” AFM prexy Lee said. “On many fronts and on numerous critical issues, the AFM, AFTRA and SAG make common cause for the benefit of all performers, whether their performances are live or recorded, whether their genres are classical or popular, and whether their focus is art or news, commerce or public affairs.”

The unions have been pressing state lawmakers in California and New York to revamp recording-contract laws and allow artists to terminate such contracts after seven years. The orgs also have contended that the Federal Communications Commission should not ease the media ownership restrictions on June 2, a step the FCC is widely expected to take.

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