“There’s an old saying there is strength in numbers,” said U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez in a keynote speech Saturday to more than 300 delegates at the first-ever SAG-AFTRA convention at the JW Marriott in downtown Los Angeles.
“As you embark on this remarkable journey together as one, the fact of the matter is, people can’t play you off against each other anymore — that’s really important,” Perez added.
Members of SAG and AFTRA voted overwhelmingly to approve the merger in March, 2012, after SAG voters turned down previous efforts in 1999 and 2003. Merger proponents campaigned for the combo on the grounds that the combined performers union would have more clout at the bargaining table. The new union reps about 165,000 performers.
SAG-AFTRA reached a new three-year deal in April on its commercials contract with the advertising industry, calling for a 6% wage hike and for Pension and Health contributions to increase from 15.5% to 16.8%. The contract, which currently covers about $1 billion in annual earnings, will see increases in payments of $238 million over its term.
Prior to the negotiations, the union held the required “wages and working conditions” meetings with members to formulate its proposal but made no subsequent efforts to mobilize the members about the issues — a sharp contrast with efforts in 2000, when SAG and AFTRA struck for six months against the ad industry.
SAG-AFTRA’s master contract covering film and primetime TV work expires June 30. No negotiations have been set.
Perez also said in his remarks, “I want to thank you for the work that you do. While I go into the court of law, you go into the court that is much bigger. That’s the court of public opinion – winning the minds and hearts of the people.”
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued a similar endorsement of the merger in his remarks on the convention’s opening day on Thursday.
“One of the major goals across our labor movement is strengthening the power of unions,” he said. “And I have no doubt that the merger of SAG and AFTRA has built a much, much stronger union. It’s a victory for your combined membership. Labor makes possible the joy and wonder that I feel – and all of us in the viewing public feel – when we’re transported by the magic that you do.”