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About 80 SAG-AFTRA employees will leave their jobs by Friday in a voluntary severance program, The Hollywood Reporter has learned, and an additional 20 or so will do so during the next couple months, according to several sources.
Most of the union’s 600 staff were eligible for the program, and the roughly 15 percent who opted for it was within the target 10 to 15 percent that the union’s executives had hoped for, according to a source.
The departures, and the Sept. 28 deadline that applies for most of the departures, come almost exactly six months after SAG and AFTRA voted to merge. At the time, then-SAG national executive director David White said that the union would not lay off anyone as a result of the merger, and the source stressed that the voluntary severance program was indeed voluntary.
“When you bring together two staffs with similar responsibilities and duties, there is naturally going to be some overlap and redundancy,” said White, who’s now national executive director of the merged union. “This program is helping us get our staffing levels right in a way that is respectful and reflects our priorities going forward.”
The union had no comment other than White’s statement and declined to provide any details on the size of buyout packages that staff were offered, how the packages were calculated, whether non-cash components are included, how much of an ongoing savings in payroll expenses are forecast, and how large the one-time increase in payroll costs will be for the severance program.
In a few cases, departing employees will stay on as short-term consultants. Some of the retirees have had more than 30 years of service with SAG-AFTRA and one of the two predecessor unions. According to a source, the departing employees come about equally from legacy SAG and AFTRA.
Severance programs – or, indeed, actual layoffs – are common in the corporate world when two companies merge.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Deborah Berg, who’s leaving after 35 years of service. “SAG has been a great home for me.” Berg is currently the director of knowledge management, a research and contracts function. She said she’d miss “a lot of wonderful friends” but called the severance package “kind of like a gift that’s given me the opportunity to move on to the next chapter of my life.”
Shasta Iglesias, a seven-year veteran, is leaving her job as executive assistant to the union’s top elected officers and forming a nonprofit called Helping Others Through Music Experience, which will help aspiring but underprivileged young musicians develop both their talent and their business sense.
“Giving hope is important,” she said.
The voluntary severance program is not the first round of departures related to the uniting of the two unions. Indeed, the highest-profile departure came less than three weeks after merger, when, as The Hollywood Reporter first reported, AFTRA’s Kim Roberts Hedgpeth stepped down as co-national executive director of the merged union, making White the sole national executive director going forward.
Another high-level departure came in August as former AFTRA general counsel Tom Carpenter decamped for a position at Actors’ Equity, consolidating Duncan Crabtree-Ireland’s role as general counsel and chief administrative officer.
Those two departures strengthened the power of former SAG executives in the merged union. More controversial was the retirement of about 15 former New York AFTRA staffers and others elsewhere, which came under the terms of what has been described by a source as a surprisingly rich severance package that had been put in place by AFTRA prior to a 2003 SAG/AFTRA merger attempt.
Meanwhile, White sees the voluntary severance program as “only one piece of the continuing integration of our merged union.” He added, “This also affords us a unique opportunity to improve our operational structure,” suggesting that further organizational changes might be in the offing.
According to a source, the program was requested by the joint SAG/AFTRA merger committee, the Group for One Union (G1), which spent much of 2011 negotiating the terms of the two unions’ merger.
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