The crowd at SAG headquarters in Los Angeles broke into song after the announcement, singing, “We have overcome.”
The vote among SAG members was 82 percent in favor – a stunningly high number — and among AFTRA members, it was 86 percent in favor. Sixty percent approval by each union was required. The newly titled SAG-AFTRA national co-presidents Ken Howard and Roberta Reardon announced the results to loud cheers at 1:35 p.m. PT.
“With this historic vote, members of both unions have affirmed one of the most basic principles of unionism: Together we are stronger,” Howard said. “This merger, the result of months – really years – of planning, brings together the best elements of both unions and positions us well to thrive in the changing 21st-century media landscape.”
More than 55,000 SAG ballots and 37,500 AFTRA ballots were returned. That represents 53 percent and 52 percent of the ballots mailed to SAG and AFTRA, respectively.
Approval by AFTRA members was never in doubt: They had voted “yes” in the 1998-99 and 2003 merger attempts. But SAG members had voted “no” both times. In 2003, SAG’s “yes” votes fell about 2 percent short; 640 votes would have swung the result.
“The merger of these two unions is a huge victory for our members, and it is a monumental achievement for the labor movement,” said Reardon. “As this vote today proves, great and transformative things are possible when working Americans stand together and shape their collective destiny through their union. I applaud every member who voted and invite all members, locally and nationally, to join with us in building a successor union worthy of AFTRA and SAG.”
The merger takes effect immediately, and Reardon said the leadership will get down to work Monday. “Labor unions created the weekend,” she said with a smile.
Ballots were mailed to 131,000 members of one or both unions Feb. 27 and were due back at the Seattle-area offices of Integrity Voting Systems by Friday morning. The results of the merger vote were live streamed at sagaftra.org, a campaign website that presumably will become the online home of the new union. More than 6,000 viewers watched the announcement online.
Unions including the WGA West and East publicly backed SAG-AFTRA soon after the link-up became official. And the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, with which SAG-AFTRA will negotiate future contracts, said in a statement Friday, “The AMPTP looks forward to a cooperative relationship with the new performers’ organization as we endeavor to address the challenges of operation in an industry undergoing transformation.”
The merger campaign was hard fought and included a lawsuit that sought to block the vote count. A federal judge denied that injunction Wednesday, but the lawsuit lives on, as does a threat of a class-action suit a year or so from now.
The merger process began in late 2010, or mid-2008, if measured from the initial formation of SAG’s pro-merger Unite for Strength slate — or in the 1930s, if measured from the formation of SAG and pre-television AFTRA predecessor AFRA, both of whose creation independent of Actors’ Equity even then raised questions as to whether performers ought to be represented by a single union, not two or three.
SAG-AFTRA said it now represents more than 150,000 actors, announcers, broadcasters, journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voice-over artists and other media professionals whose work can be seen and heard in theaters, on TV and radio, sound recordings, the Internet, games, mobile devices and home video.
The merged guild’s first elections will be held next year in late spring or early summer.
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