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SAG, AFTRA move closer to merger

Unions to establish forum for discussions

The Screen Actors Guild has taken a key step toward merging with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Though SAG and AFTRA haven’t yet set a date for a merger vote, SAG president Ken Howard announced Saturday night that he had agreed with AFTRA prexy Roberta Reardon to create a “presidents forum” — an arrangement under which the leaders of the two performer unions could informally “establish on common vision” for a single union.

Howard said he and SAG secretary-treasurer Amy Aquino would become members of the forum along with four yet-be-named members of the SAG-AFTRA relations task force.

The announcement, following a daylong national board meeting, represents the first official mechanism to sort out details of combining the two unions. SAG has 120,000 actors as members, and AFTRA has 70,000 members, including broadcasters and singers; about 45,000 thesps are dual members.

Reardon had said Wednesday the forum would probably meet on an as-needed basis through 2011 — signaling a member vote on merger is still far off.

“This is a positive step toward uniting SAG and AFTRA and good news for our members,” Howard said in a statement. “The creation of a single performers’ union is overdue, and I’m pleased to be working with Roberta Reardon, who’s been such a champion of that goal.”

Howard was elected on a pro-merger platform last year and both national boards have expressed support for the notion, launching campaigns in the member magazines this spring for the general idea — without mentioning specifics.

Previous moves to persuade SAG members to support merging have been turned away due to concerns such as SAG losing its identity as an actors union and the difficulties of combining the pension ands health plans. The name chosen for the 2003 merger attempt — the Alliance of Intl. Media Artists — failed to gain much traction after the SAG vote fell just short of the required 60% support.

Merger supporters have contended recently that split jurisdiction in primetime is leading to actors being unable to meet earnings thresholds to qualify for the health plans. They also say the combined unions would run more efficiently as a single org and have more bargaining clout. AFTRA angrily split from SAG in 2008 over jurisdictional beefs and negotiated its own primetime deal for the first time in three decades. Under Howard, SAG has mended fences and the two unions are set to negotiate jointly on a new primetime deal in September.

Howard said Saturday that SAG has had a “productive and positive partnership” with Reardon and the AFTRA team during the recent wages and working conditions process, during which the unions hammer out proposals for the primetime-feature talks.

SAG also announced that Bob Bergen had been named as national chair of the Television Animation and Basic Cable Animation Negotiating Committee. Negotiations for a successor agreement are scheduled to begin Sept. 27 — the same start day as the primetime-feature talks.

Aquino announced a $329,000 surplus for the guild for its fiscal year ended April 30, noting better than expected results from the expense management program and “significantly improved” income from investments. Aquino reported a surplus of $329,000 for fiscal year 2010.

Aquino also credited Chief Financial Officer Arianna Ozzanto and her team in streamlining financial operations and praised the SAG Finance Committee and SAG national exec director David White.

“Early in 2009, David White identified a series of financial concerns amounting to a potential deficit of several million dollars,” she added. “David’s and the executive team’s quick action to improve SAG’s financial management and to streamline operations resulted in meaningful expense reductions and an even more stable fiscal position.”

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