Thesp merger foes irked by calls

Access to private numbers raises security issues

Opponents of the proposed SAG-AFTRA consolidation have complained about possible privacy violations in recent SAG polling of members, citing restrictions put in place following the 1989 murder of Rebecca Schaeffer.

SAG has denied any impropriety in the telephone polling, asserting it is confident that no personal info about members is being released. “The phone calls are made through a computer so the people conducting the poll never have access to the numbers,” spokeswoman Ilyanne Kichaven said.

But SAG treasurer Kent McCord, speaking at a SaveSAG news conference Thursday, said many members have expressed concern over pollsters possibly being given access to private phone numbers since the pollsters know the name of who is being called.

Security concerns

“We believe the guild is being derelict in exposing members to potential danger by allowing calls on the private numbers of high-profile members,” he said. McCord noted that at one point of his career, he was forced to employ round-the-clock security due to threats to his family.

Schaeffer’s death came after she was tracked to her home by a deranged fan who obtained her address through the Dept. of Motor Vehicles. SAG successfully sought to place restrictions on such access. An informational meeting at SAG’s Hollywood headquarters on Wednesday night provoked strong negative reactions from members with multiple complaints about calls on private numbers and pollsters asking for members by name.

The disagreement over the polling underscores tensions kicked up among showbiz performers over the “consolidation and affiliation” proposal. Proponents contend that a merger is needed to give performers more leverage and solve jurisdictional problems while opponents have argued that SAG will become less effective and less powerful.

Ballots go out June 9 to 98,000 SAG members and 77,000 AFTRA members and are due back by June 30. Over 60% of voters in both unions must approve.

SaveSAG’s event blasted efforts by union leaders to promote the deal. McCord contended attorney fees paid by SAG have totaled over $900,000 of the $1.75 million budgeted for the entire process; Kichaven disputed that fee figure, asserting it is “significantly” lower and within budget.

SAG board member Valerie Harper, who twice ran unsuccessfully against SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert, issued a challenge to Gilbert and AFTRA president John Connolly to debate the issues. But the unions have no plans to hold such an event, and Kichaven noted that the membership meetings have evoked a wide range of comments from members.

Summers weighs in

The controversy over the plan to merge the SAG and AFTRA pension and health plans also received a new wrinkle Thursday as SAG trustee Yale Summers announced he endorses the conclusion of management trustees that such a merger would not benefit SAG plan participants. Four SAG trustees announced earlier this week that they disagree with the management trustees.

Gilbert and Connolly portrayed the management trustees as meddling in union politics. The SAG plan operates independently of the guild with 36 trustees — 18 repping management and 18 union trustees repping SAG; merging it with that of AFTRA is a cornerstone of the pro-deal campaign.

In another development, Helen Hunt’s name has been withdrawn as a backer of the no vote.

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