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SAG-AFTRA cuts b’cast entry fees

Initiation fee for some broadcasters reduced by more than 40%

With no fanfare, the new SAG-AFTRA national board has cut the initiation fee for some broadcasters by more than 40% to $1,708 from $3,000 on an interim basis with the goal of organizing non-union shops.

The board made the move May 20 at its first meeting, less than two months after members of SAG and AFTRA approved the merger pact — which said explicitly that all initiation fees in the new union would be $3,000, a figure that could not be increased for the first three years after the March 30 merger date.

Prior to the merger, SAG members had been paying a $2,227 initiation fee while AFTRA, which had hundreds of local contracts, had set its fee at $1,600. A representative for SAG-AFTRA confirmed Tuesday the fee reduction.

People familiar with the situation indicated that the cut — proposed by co-secretary-treasurers Amy Aquino and Matt Kimbrough during the meeting — would cover members joining under single unit contracts in Los Angeles and New York paying the “Day One” waived rate of $1,708 (the highest “Day One” rate among the locals). Those people also said the near-doubling of the initiation fee in broadcast shops had generated resistance among employers, heightening the difficulties of organizing those locations as SAG-AFTRA shops.

The national board asked the finance committee and staff to develop and recommend an appropriate waiver schedule for initiation fees for single unit contracts.

The fee reduction was not mentioned in the union’s May 20 press release about the two-day board meeting, which highlighted David White signing a three-year deal to serve as national executive director. The next scheduled SAG-AFTRA national board meeting will be in July.

Prior to the merger, the broadcasters were repped through AFTRA, which had about 70,000 members. AFTRA leaders moved in 2009 to raise the standard initiation fee from $1,300 to $1,600 with those funds earmarked strictly for organizing.

SAG and AFTRA members agreed to merge the unions in a vote tallied March 30 with 86% of AFTRA members approving and 82% of SAG members.

The issue of initiation fees did not arise during the campaign. Merger backers asserted that the SAG-AFTRA combo would increase bargaining strength and represent a first step toward solving the problem of performers not qualifiying for coverage under separate SAG and AFTRA health and pension plans.

Merger opponents filed a lawsuit alleging that SAG hasn’t adhered to its own regulations in promulgating the merger and was required to perform an actuarial study of the results of merging the health and pension plans. But a federal judge found that SAG had not violated any federal labor law.

Aquino and Kimbrough also presented a budget of $95 million for the fiscal year ending Aprl 30, including $2.7 million from reserves to cover transition costs and allocations for several upcoming contract negotiations.

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