Campaigning has intensified over the proposed SAG-AFTRA merger, with both sides stepping up activity prior to 175,000 ballots going out June 9.
On the pro side, Sam Moore of Sam & Dave has issued a strong endorsement, praising AFTRA’s work in last year’s $8.4 million settlement to artists from the 1960s who lost health benefits.
On the opposition side, the SaveSAG group has issued a 9-page minority report stressing the potential loss of SAG’s identity by combining with AFTRA and creating a “complex, untried” umbrella union — the Alliance of Intl. Media Artists — with affiliates for actors, broadcasters and recording artists.
Moore, who was lead plaintiff in the class-action suit, disputed assertions that AFTRA and its health and retirement funds are on the hook for the settlement. Instead, he noted, the settlement enriched the AFTRA funds by several million dollars through proceeds from its liability insurance.
“I am sorry that there is misinformation about this, as I am both a member of SAG and of AFTRA,” Moore said. “I totally and fully support the consolidation and affiliation of the two groups. Having dealt with the litigation for the past 10 years as I have, I know the only way we’re going to have strength and power is by joining together.”
Moore’s suit, filed a decade ago, alleged the funds — which operate separately from AFTRA — failed to collect proper pension and health contributions from record companies over a 35-year period. Moore was joined in the suit by more than a dozen artists, including Curtis Mayfield and members of the Coasters, the Drifters, the Chambers Brothers and the Shirelles.
AFTRA took the extraordinary step of filing a court brief in May 2002 opposing portions of a proposed $8 million settlement, asserting it was inadequate in compensating artists other than the plaintiffs.
Merger study ready
As part of approving the consolidation, leaders of the two unions have asked the trustees of the SAG and AFTRA pension and health plans to begin laying the groundwork to combine those plans in order to improve operations. The minority report noted that a study of merging the plans has been completed but has not been released by the trustees.
The minority report attacks the premises that the merger will lead to more bargaining clout and efficiency while eliminating jurisdictional warfare. “There is no pressing or urgent need to merge,” SaveSAG said.
The document, which was released Sunday, warns that at least 16,000 non-SAG actors who are AFTRA members will be able to compete for SAG work. It also alleged that AFTRA — which has no admission requirement other than the payment of an initiation fee — has seen a recent increase in membership in anticipation of the merger as a way of gaining access to SAG work, but an AFTRA spokeswoman denied that allegation.
Concerns about AFL-CIO
SaveSAG also attacked SAG leaders for refusing to ask the AFL-CIO to settle the jurisdictional disputes and noted that the AFL-CIO has been active in promoting the deal. “The AFL-CIO is in favor of this merger because it will give them a large new labor organization with high profile members and lots of dues money,” it added.
SAG’s national board spurned sending out an official report to members last month after the merger vote failed to reach the 25% level that automatically triggers such a move.
SAG and AFTRA have slated a news conference for Monday showcasing members who opposed the 1998 merger but support the new deal, which must be approved by 60% of voters in both unions.