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Battle for SAG-AFTRA merger

Members voice opposition

A pair of advisory motions approved Sunday at SAG’s national membership meeting make it seem likely that plans to merge Hollywood’s two biggest performer unions will face some significant opposition.

Leaders of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have continued targeting January for completing a final proposal. SAG and AFTRA issued a joint statement Wednesday, a day after a five-day meeting concluded, asserting that the confab had been “remarkably productive.”

But most of the 180 attending SAG’s member meeting Sunday indicated opposition to a merger, sources said. The event, held at SAG headquarters in the mid-Wilshire area, was open only to guild members.

SAG members voted down merger proposals in 1999 and 2003, but SAG voters have been backing pro-merger candidates overwhelmingly in recent elections.

One advisory motion to the national board specified that a minority report be included in the merger referendum regardless of the vote of the board. Another advisory motion required that the board adhere to the three-decade-old Phase 1 agreement, which requires both unions to perform a feasibility study regarding the SAG pension and health plans prior to a merger vote. The SAG plans — which recently announced tightened eligibility requirements — are operated independently of SAG with oversight from reps of the guild and the congloms.

Merger advocates have asserted that the combined unions will have more clout. Sources also said that SAG treasurer Amy Aquino told the audience that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — which serves as the congloms’ bargaining arm and hasn’t taken an official position — does not want SAG and AFTRA to merge because the combined union would be a stronger entity.

SAG president Ken Howard, who has been a strong advocate of merger, presided over the meeting. Along with Aquino, national VPs Ned Vaughn, Mike Hodge and David Hartley-Margolin were on the dais along with SAG national exec director David White and general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. SAG and AFTRA have disclosed only general details about the substance of discussions to hammer out a merger plan.

Proponents have argued that a combined union would be more powerful and remove jurisdictional overlaps. Opponents have contended that the new union should be for actors only.

Should the proposal be approved in January by the national boards, members could be asked to vote by next spring in a contest that would require 60% of those voting in each union to approve. SAG has about 120,000 members while AFTRA has about 70,000, with about 45,000 performers belonging to both.

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