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SAG, AFTRA set name for combined union

SAG-AFTRA United moniker among details hammered out last week

The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television & Radio Artists will live on as SAG-AFTRA — should members approve the upcoming merger vote.

Leaders of SAG and AFTRA reached agreement on the new moniker as part of the merger proposal that will likely go to members in the next few months, according to sources.

The unions announced early Monday that reps had completed the proposal, but gave no specific details other than saying that the national boards would meet on the last weekend of the month to approve sending the referendum to members. Members of both boards will be briefed in a teleconference Sunday.

SAG and AFTRA had no comment about the name — which, like the rest of the proposal, is a non-binding recommendation from The AFTRA and SAG Group for One Union to the national boards.

SAG members defeated merger proposals in 1999 and 2003 while AFTRA members supported both. In 2003, the merged union would have been called the Alliance of Intl. Media Artists, which may have been a factor in the defeat.

Should the national boards approve, the proposal will be sent to 120,000 SAG members and 70,000 AFTRA members, who include actors, broadcasters, disc jockeys, singers and dancers. About 45,000 performers belonging to both unions. To pass, the referendum would need a 60% approval margin from both orgs among votes cast.

People close to the situation have indicated that elections will combine elements of SAG’s direct voting structure for some national offices while other national slots will be filled using AFTRA’s national convention structure, in which delegates are elected at the local level. A vote for officers is held every other year at the convention.

The SAG national board will meet Jan. 27-28 and the AFTRA national board will meet Jan. 28 and on Jan. 29, if necessary. The timetable means that the key details of the proposal — the name of the combined union and its governance and dues structure — could be tubthumped during the Jan. 29 SAG Awards ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The SAG prexy traditionally gives an on-air speech during the kudocast.

SAG president Ken Howard and AFTRA president Roberta Reardon have made the merger of the two unions their signature issue and received strong support from members in recent elections.

The merger proposal was hammered out at a nine-day meeting at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood that wrapped Sunday night. The marathon session had been scheduled to meet the previously announced goal of finishing in time for submission to the national boards at the end of this month.

It was fifth official meeting by the AFTRA and SAG Group for One Union since June to work out details such as a name, governance, financing, membership requirements and dues. Other than describing the meetings as productive, the unions have disclosed only general details.

SAG’s elected leadership has been dominated in recent years by those in favor of a merger, who contend that a combined union would be more powerful and remove jurisdictional overlaps. Opponents within SAG, whose influence has waned in recent years, contend that SAG should remain for actors only.

SAG and AFTRA share jurisdiction on primetime TV. After years of bitter disputes, AFTRA split from SAG on joint bargaining in 2008 and negotiated a separate deal a full year before SAG reached an accord — leading to producers opting to sign with AFTRA for nearly all new shows.

It’s not yet clear whether SAG national exec director David White or AFTRA national exec director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth will lead the combined union if a merger is approved. White signed an agreement last year that extended his contract into 2014.

“What we have accomplished over the last year is tremendously gratifying,” Howard and Reardon said in a joint statement issued at 4 a.m. Monday. “We are confident our members will agree that we have created something we can all be proud of — actors, singers, broadcasters, dancers, voiceover artists, background actors, stuntpersons and all entertainment and media professionals that will be represented by this new union. The consensus process allowed our (Group for One Union) members to fully discuss, debate and reach agreement on critical provisions that form a strong foundation for a single union that will protect and strengthen the future for all our members.”

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