You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

AFTRA topper eyes SAG merger

Third time a charm?

Will the third time be a charm for merging SAG and AFTRA?

American Federation of Television & Radio Artists topper Kim Roberts Hedgpeth isn’t making predictions, even with AFTRA’s national board due to meet this weekend to endorse officially starting development of a formal merger plan.

Hedgpeth, in an interview with Variety, spoke about the current efforts to galvanize the two unions into a single entity, and how AFTRA leadership may attempt to persuade performers by framing the issue in historical terms.

“On my first day of working at AFTRA in 1981, I was fresh out of law school, and the air traffic controllers were fired by President Reagan,” she recalled. “It was a very fundamental mesage about how our power structure doesn’t value organized labor. The good news is what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

That history resonates today, with legislatures in Wisconson and other states moving to strip away collective bargaining rights. “Sometimes, you just have to take the punches, so we’ve grown accustomed to what it’s like to take a standing eight count,” Roberts said. “I’m married to an ex-boxer (former New Jersey law-enforcement exec Gilbert W. Hedgpeth), you know.”

Leaders of the Screen Actors Guild took a serious step toward merging with AFTRA on April 30. SAG’s national board of directors voted unanimously to endorse a mission statement to create a single performers union along with creating a 13-member task force to work with AFTRA counterparts in developing a formal merger plan to be submitted in January for approval by the two national boards.

It’s still unclear what the new union might be called and whether Hedgpeth or SAG national exec director David White would be in charge. But with no formal anti-merger movement yet organized, the current state of affairs represents a sea change from the early 2000s, when AFTRA was forced to issue a one-time assessment to straighten out its finances; or 2003, when SAG members voted down the merger; or the 2006-08 span, when SAG and AFTRA were at each other’s throats over jurisdictional issues — which included SAG blasting AFTRA over offering cable companies lower rates and AFTRA blasting SAG for its failure to report an attempt actors on a soap to decertify. The rancor between the two unions was so deep, it led to separate negotiations with the majors. SAG’s talks were prolonged for more than a year, allowing AFTRA to cut a deal and expand its coverage of primetime skeins that would otherwise likely have been done under SAG contracts.

Roberts said that period of discord between the unions was extremely troubling to her.

“That was a very painful period in 2007-08,” she said. “I have a lot of respect for how the Directors Guild operates with a vision and tries to be thoughtful and take a long-term approach.”

SAG and AFTRA have since mended fences, and the two unions negotiated jointly for seven weeks last fall on a successor primetime-feature deal. But the vast majority of TV pilots have signed with AFTRA rather than SAG over the past three seasons as SAG’s longstanding hold on primetime work continues to erode, even though SAG’s elected leadership has become more moderate and less confrontational.

Hedgpeth said the lessons of the past sometimes aren’t evident [No Paragraph Style]Text (Text Styles)until fresh context changes the framing. She recalled that at her first national convention with AFTRA in 2005, the issues addressed were sounds recordings, TV commercials, audiobooks and employment and the growth of nondramatic programming in basic cable.

“A few weeks later, Disney announced the deal for the iPod — which is a good lesson in how quickly things can change — and sound recordings really wound up being the canary in the coal mine,” she said. “People are having to work across all kinds of formats. New platforms are creating fundamental changes in the work. We have to look at that on a two-year, three-year and five-year horizon … and recognize that the way we did things five to 10 years ago may not make sense any more.”

To illustrate the importance of long-term planning, Hedgpeth cites the fact that Sound Exchange distributed $250 million in music royalties last year as compensation for streaming, satellite and digital cable.

“That’s the result of legislation that was passed in 1994 and in 1998 and discussions that began in 1992,” she said. “That’s why a long view matters.” By this time next year, the 120,000 members of SAG and the 70,000 members of AFTRA (45,000 members belonging to both) could be voting on a merger. But the vote isn’t likely to be a slam dunk, particularly on the SAG side.

Membership First, which has lost nearly all its power, campaigned last year on a platform of supporting a merger but only if the new union was limited to actors and excluded the broadcasters, journos and recording artists now covered by AFTRA.

Alan Rosenberg, who served as SAG prexy for two terms between 2005 and 2009, has accused AFTRA’s leaders of being unwilling to take strong positions at the negotiating table. But that message has fallen flat in the last three member elections. There are now less than a dozen Membership First reps — notably Ed Asner, Diane Ladd, Ed Harris and Martin Sheen — on the SAG board along with a handful on the AFTRA boards; several have grown frustrated over what they perceive to be SAG’s lack of effort to sign primetime shows shot on digital.

But Roberts also takes a long-term view of the shift in primetime, noting that large numbers of shows were under AFTRA jurisdiction in the 1980s.

“As companies have combined, some have long-term agreements with us and I think they may be more comfortable with us,” she said.

More Film

  • Let There Be Light Movie Marko

    Tough Competition in Spa Town Festival

    When the curtain rises June 28 on the 54th edition of the Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival, there will be a conspicuous absence among the 12 titles selected for the main competition: Czech directors. It’s just the second time this decade that the host country has failed to field a single entry in competition, a [...]

  • Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp Join Edgar

    Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp Join Edgar Wright’s ‘Last Night in Soho’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Edgar Wright’s “Last Night in Soho” has rounded out its cast, with veteran actors Diana Rigg and Terence Stamp among the stars signing on for the latest movie from the “Baby Driver” director. Stamp can currently be seen in Netflix hit “Murder Mystery” with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. Rigg’s recent roles include Olenna Tyrell [...]

  • Zhang Zhao LeEco film

    Zhang Zhao, Chief of Le Chuang (Formerly Le Vision Pictures), Resigns

    Zhang Zhao, the chairman and CEO of Le Chuang Entertainment, formerly known as Le Vision Pictures, has resigned for “personal reasons,” the firm said.    Zhang’s resignation was announced in a statement posted to the firm’s official social media account Monday, which thanked him for his service. “Le Chuang will carry on as before, using [...]

  • Bob Berney

    Bob Berney to Leave Amazon Studios' Head of Marketing and Distribution Position

    Bob Berney, Amazon Studios’ head of marketing and distribution, is stepping down, Variety has confirmed. Berney was hired by Amazon in 2015 and recently reached the end of his four-year contract. His last day will be Friday. During his time at amazon, the film veteran oversaw a number of successful films including “Manchester by the [...]

  • NEW YORK, NY – JUNE, 24:

    LGBTQ Stars Honored at Variety’s Power of Pride Celebration

    New York City felt the full power of pride on Monday, as Variety celebrated its inaugural issue devoted to the annual recognition of LGBTQ people worldwide. At an intimate gathering at lower east side Manhattan hotel The Orchid, rooftop bar Mr. Purple hosted Variety’s cover stars and luminaries for cocktails and the unveiling of the [...]

  • Joel Silver Exits Silver Pictures

    Joel Silver Exits Silver Pictures

    Top Hollywood producer Joel Silver has exited his production company Silver Pictures, Variety has confirmed. “Joel Silver recently indicated that he intends to leave Silver Pictures and go out on his own,” Hal Sadoff, a former ICM Partners agent who joined Silver Pictures several years ago as CEO, said in a statement. “We are working [...]

  • Billy Eichner Power of Pride Variety

    Billy Eichner on Taylor Swift's 'Calm Down' Backlash

    When Taylor Swift released her “You Need to Calm Down” music video, it seemed like every member of the LGBTQ in Hollywood was included — except for Billy Eichner. “I’m still not gay enough for Taylor Swift — or too gay — I don’t know what it is,” Eichner joked at Variety’s Power of Pride [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content