SAG unit to explore wooing AFTRA actors

Would Hollywood faction's effort violate AFL-CIO pact?

New wounds have opened in the on-again, off-again relationship between SAG and AFTRA.

In the latest scuffle, SAG's Hollywood Division board, dominated by MembershipFirst members, has passed a resolution calling for a new task force "to explore the acquisition of actors of AFTRA." At issue is whether this effort violates an AFL-CIO brokered agreement the two organizations signed in January that prohibits disparagement or raiding of each other's membership.

Regardless, the wording has angered MembershipFirst opponents tired of its acrimonious actions with regard to AFTRA.

The resolution, proposed by board member Angel Tompkins, impacts the guilds in the midst of a nexus of election and contract battles.

For one thing, it coincides with AFTRA's ongoing elections for L.A. local officers and board members as well as L.A.-based national board members. Among the candidates are several MembershipFirst dual card holders, including Anne-Marie Johnson, who is SAG first vp, chair of the Hollywood division and a MembershipFirst leader.

MembershipFirst members have long been hostile to a merger with AFTRA, a perennial proposal that has never passed, and the TV-theatrical contract that AFTRA signed with the AMPTP a year ago. MembershipFirst partisans campaigned heavily to defeat its passage by AFTRA's membership last spring.

These candidates' efforts to join the AFTRA board are seen by many as a path to dismantling AFTRA from within, though the revelation of Monday's Hollywood Division resolution could hurt their chances in the elections.

About 45,000 actors hold membership in both unions. The AFTRA election ballots must be returned by June 3.

Adding to the tension is the fact that the 10-month delay in nailing down a new SAG basic agreement opened the door for AFTRA to take over coverage of a vast majority of broadcast television pilots this season. In an unprecedented shift, all but four of 70 TV pilots are affiliated with AFTRA, which typically covers shows shot in the digital format.

Among other things, that has a direct effect on union revenue and health and pension contributions.

As for the motion to "acquire" AFTRA actors, the union's national director of communications Christopher de Haan responded Wednesday in a statement that said: "We are aware of the matter and are discussing it with legal counsel."

It's worth noting that despite the animosity, AFTRA reaffirmed its interest in consolidation and affiliation with SAG back in 2003 after the last merger vote was narrowly defeated. Unite for Strength, the other major party within SAG, has advocated for embracing consolidation and affiliation with AFTRA.

SAG's own election season begins in late August, and while that voting should prove to be highly contentious, it's unlikely that it will deliver a decisive quorum to one side or the other.

On Tuesday, ballots got out to SAG members to ratify a new TV-theatrical contract. Those votes are due June 9.