AFTRA endorses merger effort

Resolution passes in support of SAG-AFTRA 'listening tour'

The move to merge Hollywood’s performer unions has received another boost.

The national board of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists formally endorsed Saturday continued efforts to combine AFTRA and the Screen Actors Guild. The panel passed a resolution endorsing the current “listening tour” conducted by AFTRA president Roberta Reardon and SAG prexy Ken Howard.

Measure also asked for a committee report at the next board meeting on May 14 on specific steps to be taken toward a merger vote. The composition of SAG’s board has shifted in recent years toward self-styled moderates who have made merger their signature issue.

“AFTRA’s current elected leadership is encouraged by the renewed interest expressed by SAG’s current leadership in bringing AFTRA and SAG together into a new successor union,” the resolution noted.

Reardon predicted earlier this month that a vote on merger would probably not take place until early next year. Merger attempts in 1999 and 2003 were voted down by SAG members amid concerns about SAG losing its identity as an actors union and difficulties in merging the union-industry health and pension funds.

Merger proponents have contended that combining SAG and AFTRA would give actors more clout and improve operating efficiencies. They’ve also asserted that a merger could allow the pension and health plans to combine eventually.

“Our world of work is very different than it was the last time we tried to bring our unions together, so any new, successor union we hope to create must also be different, and to do that successfully, we must be guided by a clear vision for the future,” Reardon said in a statement. “As we continue and advance this ambitious project in partnership with the Screen Actors Guild, I urge all AFTRA members — performers, recording artists and broadcasters — to imagine not just how good, but how much better we can be together.”

Relations between SAG and AFTRA hit a low three years ago when AFTRA angrily split off from joint negotiations and reached its own primetime deal in May 2008. SAG, which was controlled at that point by the more assertive Membership First faction, blasted the terms of the pact, which had a relatively low 62% ratification, then stalled in its own contract negotiations for a year — leading to producers opting to sign up the lion’s share of TV pilots with AFTRA.

Since then, SAG and AFTRA have mended fences with Membership First seeing its power dwindle.

SAG’s national board met Sunday in a regularly scheduled meeting. Howard issued a statement strongly endorsing AFTRA’s resolution.

“We have a clear direction from our members and an unprecedented chance to bring SAG and AFTRA together as a single union,” he said. “Now is the time to focus our attention, our resources, and our very best efforts on completing the journey to one union. I’m confident we will succeed, and that our members now and in the future will be the better for it.”

For its part, SAG’s national board voted unanimously to allocate $70,000 for its SAG-AFTRA Relations Task Force.

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