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SAG, AFTRA unveil pro-merger booklet

Material to build support for combining guilds is posted online

The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have unveiled their official pro-merger materials that will be hitting member mailboxes next week.

“There are many reasons to approve this merger and the most important is also the most basic: we are stronger together,” said the cover letter by SAG prexy Ken Howard and AFTRA president Roberta Reardon. “If SAG and AFTRA remain separate, employers will continue to divide our work and undermine our bargaining strength. Merger puts an end to that. As one union, SAG-AFTRA will have maximum power to protect our members thoughout the entertainment and media industries.”

Howard and Reardon noted that members expressed strong support for merger during the 20 meetings in 13 cities that the duo held over a six-month period last year.

“We heard you say that you want more leverage for stronger contracts and a union that could help stem the tide of non-union work — making sure that all media, old and new, is union media,” they said. “Your message was clear and compelling. Make us stronger by making us one.”

The 18-page document was posted Sunday night on the www.sagaftra.org site. Earlier on Sunday, opponents of the SAG-AFTRA merger disclosed their official statement that’s included in the ballot materials and cited a dozen problem areas.

The booklet goes out Feb. 27 to 120,000 SAG members and 70,000 AFTRA members. Ballots will be tabulated March 30 and 60% of those voting in both unions must approve for the merger to go through.

Problem areas cited in the opposition document, which received approval Friday from SAG lawyers, include assertions of the merger plan’s shortcomings in a dozen areas: pension and health; split earnings on pension and health contributions; dues structure; “preferential” treatment of broadcasters; the three-voucher system for background actors; “bloated” bureaucracy; a convention structure of governance; elected leaders ability to receive pay; majority voting rules for Hollywood reps; exchange of information; agent rules; and negotiating strength.

“The current merger plan solves almost nothing and adds too many inherent problems,” the opponents’ conclusion said. “Vote no and demand that our union leaders conduct the necessary due diligence to create an agrement which will not harm actors.”

The complete merger document includes official rebuttals to the opposition report that reflect the long-standing divides within the unions, particularly at SAG. AFTRA’s rebuttal accused the opponents of being unwilling to recognize changing circumstances.

“Rather than clinging to a rapidly disappearing past, this merger moves both unions forward to catch up to the present and prepare for the future,” it said.

The SAG rebuttal accuses the opposition of creating financial losses for members in 2008 when AFTRA split off from joint negotiations with SAG and reached a deal on the primetime TV contract a year before SAG, which held out for a sweeter deal. Pro-merger reps have dominated SAG elections since 2008.

“Instead of fighting our employers, they chose to fight AFTRA, leading to separate negotiations and over $100 million in lost earnings,” the rebuttal said. “Can we really afford to do that again?”

Alan Rosenberg, who served two terms as SAG prexy from 2005 to 2009, has continued to insist that AFTRA’s leaders have been too accommodating to employers, and that a merger will put those leaders in a dominant position. During an anti-merger demonstration last week, he also asserted that the pro-merger forces within SAG undermined the guild’s bargaining position during the 2008-09 negotiations

The pro-merger reps on the SAG board have dominated elections in recent years. A total of 63 of the 71 national board members endorsed the deal in the ballot materials, including Adam Arkin, Jeff Garlin, former president Richard Masur and Tony Shalhoub.

SAG members turned down merger proposals in 1999 and 2003 while AFTRA members supported both combos. A total of 68 AFTRA board members endorsed in the ballot materials, including Bob Edwards, Jason Priestly and former president Shelby Scott.

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