SAG-AFTRA stars aligning

Pro-merger activists make media blitz on both coasts

With 175,000 ballots hitting performers’ mailboxes this week, high-profile supporters of combining SAG and AFTRA have stressed the need for actors to achieve more power and modernize in an era of consolidation by mega-congloms.

“I’m here to support rank-and-file actors,” Alec Baldwin asserted at a Gotham news conference Tuesday. “As producers and studios are getting stronger, we need to do the same. Anyone who’s working in front of the cameras should be represented by the same union.”

Baldwin was joined at the event by Ossie Davis, Roberta Flack, Dan Ingram, Tony Roberts, Skip Sudduth and Jay Thomas along with SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert and AFTRA president John Connolly. Speakers cited last week’s easing of media ownership rules by the FCC as a key reason to support the “consolidation” plan, which will create an umbrella union and affiliates for actors, broadcasters and recording artists.

“Right now we have two unions with a 19th-century administrative structure in the 21st century, and that will not do,” Connolly declared. “The FCC vote has changed the nature of the industry. It’s irresponsible to have two unions continue to represent performers in one industry.”

Leaders of SAG and AFTRA approved the plan in April, triggering the current voting. Proponents contend the deal will give performers more bargaining clout, solve jurisdictional disputes and improve operations. Opponents argue SAG will lose autonomy and be less responsive to thesps.

Ballots are due June 30, and at least 60% of voting members in both unions must approve. Though most supporters have been upbeat about the deal’s prospects, Roberts expressed uncertainty over its passage.

“There’s a very vocal and small minority in Los Angeles making great efforts to stop this,” said Roberts, a longtime SAG board member. “Their tactics are legal, but they’re based on fear.”

Gilbert, who has actively promoted the plan for several months, said the vote represents a chance for performers to respond to the fast-shifting environment among employers, adding, “The question is: Do we control the change or does the change control us?”

Gilbert also appeared Tuesday for half an hour on Howard Stern’s radio program and characterized opponents as a “small minority who don’t want change.” SAG board member Frances Fisher phoned in as an opponent, citing what she perceived as the greater likelihood of “qualified voting” for members if the deal goes through.

Gilbert and Connolly will host another news conference with high-profile supporters Monday at SAG’s Hollywood headquarters.

The pro-deal side has received endorsements from Alfred Molina and Stephen Collins, while William Baldwin has asserted that the SaveSAG group incorrectly announced he no longer supports the proposal (Daily Variety, June 10).

SaveSAG announced an endorsement from former SAG prexy Dennis Weaver and released a legal opinion about the deal from labor attorney Arthur Fox: “All that you can predict with certainty is that by approving the merger you will be creating a huge, new, all-powerful bureaucracy, and that your ability to control that bureaucracy, and your destiny, will be very substantially diminished,” Fox wrote.