SAG National Board Unanimously Moves Towards Merger with AFTRA

The Board establishes a Merger Taskforce to work with AFTRA on developing a formal plan for merger.

After at least two failed attempts, decades of discussion, recent years marked by acrimony and then reconciliation, the game is once again afoot, as Holmes would say: SAG and AFTRA are moving decisively closer to merger. The move today was SAG’s, whose national board has now unanimously established a merger taskforce to work with AFTRA to develop “a formal plan to unite SAG and AFTRA members in one union,” in the words of a SAG statement.

The goal is ambitious: to have a plan for approval by the two unions’ national boards in January 2012. The plan would include a merger agreement, constitution and dues policy.

SAG national president Ken Howard said, “The message from SAG and AFTRA members across the country has been clear – they want this done as soon as possible. If our boards approve the merger plan in January, our members will make the final decision through a referendum vote less than a year from now.”

Next up is AFTRA, whose national board meets on May 14. The union will consider, and most likely approve, a similar resolution. Consistent with that date, the SAG resolution instructs the Task Force to meet with AFTRA representatives no later than June “to initiate the development of a plan to create a successor union formed from the best elements of both SAG and AFTRA.”

In a statement, AFTRA national president Roberta Reardon said, “We are pleased that the SAG National Board of Directors has voted to authorize the creation of a formal task force to begin discussions with AFTRA concerning the creation of a new successor union.”

The SAG task force is led by Howard. The other 12 task force members were not named, but were selected from among those who served on the guild’s SAG-AFTRA Relations Task Force, which helped pave the way for today’s board vote.

SAG is composed of about 120,000 members and AFTRA about 77,000, with 45,000 “dual cardholders,” who are members of both unions. Among the latter group is SAG national secretary treasurer Amy Aquino, who said, “As Treasurer - and as a member of both unions -- I could not be more heartened. Not only will creation of one union increase our bargaining leverage, it will allow us to pool our resources to give members the protection they need by actively enforcing contracts and organizing new work.”

The merger plan would not include merger of the unions’ pension and health plans. That’s a matter that would be considered after the unions themselves merge -- a sequence that makes some SAG members uncomfortable. It’s impossible to tell, however, whether those concerns are shared by more than a fraction of the union.

In addition to establishing the merger task force, the SAG board also adopted a draft mission statement for the successor (i.e., merged) union. The new organization would include “actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, dj’s, news writers, news directors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals” -- that is, all members of SAG and AFTRA.

Some opponents of merger within SAG’s Hollywood branch would prefer to see the merged union encompass only actors and other performers. At least one prominent AFTRA broadcaster has expressed a parallel concern, that his constituency would be without influence in a merged union.

Again, however, there’s no evidence that these views are widely held. On the contrary, SAG Hollywood members have voted in ever more overwhelming margins over the last three years for candidates from Unite for Strength, a SAG faction that has consistently and emphatically run on a merger platform.