Over the last 15 years every time the word merger got mentioned…I cringed. I didn’t cringe because the thought of it was repulsive, I cringed because there just did not seem to be enough people who had a real vested interest as actors in truly coming up with a CONSTRUCT that would make any sense. And in addition to that, more than 90% of my work has been with my parent union, SAG. So as this time has come I have begun looking at some of the key elements that to me…should be a part of a heavily populated performers union. I do feel, that these elements are a key component in the consideration of a merger because I do think that they make the union stronger. Additionally, if you’re going to MIX anything…unless it has the EXACT composition of the other is the same, then there is going to have to be some INTELLIGENT compromise. I believe that is typically called…a marriage. But over the years what I had seen most of was just a lot of cantankerous attitude, very little intelligence, and a lot of shrugging of shoulders. There is nothing worse than a good idea surrounded by venom and apathy or entitlement. So take a look at some of the actual facts that are a part of this particular merger agreement.
Will SAG-AFTRA be an open union that any person can walk in off the street and join? NO! The merger agreement adopts exactly what SAG’s current guidelines are. That is a terrific victory for the concept of merging. And do all “in good standing members of SAG and AFTRA” become members of the union once it is merged? YES! (As it should) And be reminded that of the nearly/approximate 70,000 members of AFTRA 45,000 of them are dual card holders with SAG (me being one of them). That means that approximately 115,000 of a total of 140,000 are already members …of both. So it isn’t like a merger is “giving” SAG value and clout to the majority…it is the minority…so this is a nice SAGcentric element of the current merger agreement. This was a real important element for me because SAG is my parent union. And for the record, I HATE (using the word hate here) HATE the voucher system of entry. Hate it. It may not be walking in off the street like AFTRA has been, but it has sure added a lot of actors to the union that are not exactly pursuing a real performance career…aside from the collusion and corruption associated with “who gets a voucher when/why.” Personally, if this merger goes through I will be proposing an “Apprenticeship” type of “earned entry” into the new SAG-AFTRA union with all of the contracts and forms of work now available. This is a much smarter way to build union membership from people who are actually ACTING in signatory work…as opposed to just sitting around on a set. That isn’t against background performers, it is simply a pro-performer, pro-active attitude about “how you get into the union.” But this new union would be CLOSED …with qualifications…just like SAG is.
Here are a few others. The National Headquarters for the new union…are right here in Hollywood…where about 50% of the union members, nationwide, would reside. That is a good thing. The first convention, will be held in Los Angeles, and that is a good thing.
While it seems silly, it isn’t, in that the NAME of the new Union still bears both and that SAG is first. It isn’t silly, because one of the cries is about the fact that SAG is made up of …actors at its core, and AFTRA has some “mix” in terms of type of work or performing. SAG is a global brand because of the movie industry which still rules worldwide. Keeping that name…on the name was paramount to me.
Also, have you not ever heard the argument or statement that SAG really “isn’t a union, it is a GUILD.” Well that is true, and if the merger were to go through, that could no longer be stated or intimated because it would be one…AND nationwide the new constitution would establish that all locations would be called “a local” just like all other unions. There’s a New York local, and a Hollywood local, an Atlanta local…and so on and so on.
Lastly for me, in terms of the SAGcentric part of this “merger concept” was the vast difference between the By-Laws of SAG and the Articles/Constitution of AFTRA in the area that applies to Elections versus Conventions. This was a HUGE sticking point for me because while I “get” that the delegate convention thingy works in politics and other areas the difficulty for me was that mixing these two groups still isn’t 100% actors. It is overwhelmingly the majority of actors…but nonetheless…not a 100%. So be clear on the following about the merger agreement and the potential new SAG-AFTRA Constitution:
1. President 2. Executive Vice President 3. Sec/Treasurer 4-7. Regional Vice Presidents, determined by the size of the local. 8. Actor/Performer Vice President 9. Broadcaster Vice President 10. Recording Artist Vice President.
Total of 80 Board members, including the 10 elected officers, determined by the size of the locals. The board members have weighted votes with more weight to larger locals and less to smaller. No one gets less than 1 vote. So, Portland Board Member’s vote equals 1 vote, but LA’s equals about 3.9 votes.
Currently, SAG members directly elect their President and Secretary Treasurer and National Board by ballot. Likewise, AFTRA members also directly elect their National Board and delegates to Convention by ballot. However, AFTRA also uses a Convention delegate system to elect their officers, whereby popularly elected delegates vote for the officers. AFTRA’s current system allows for Proxy Voting. (I HATE that) Proxy voting is where an elected delegate can skip going to the Convention and “hand off” his convention votes to another elected delegate who will attend. This attending delegate is now holding multiple proxies and can do with those votes whatever the HELL he/she feels like once at convention.. If the non-attending delegate chooses to do so, he can currently “direct” his attending proxy to vote a specific way on a matter but it doesn’t really force the non-attending delegate to CARE about being AT the damn convention. Ok.. I digress..
Anyway, the new merger agreement and constitution makes the following adjustment and to me intelligent compromise since these two areas are so different: The President and the Secretary/Treasurer MUST be elected by ballot, which is SAGcentric. At the first election, if a merger goes through, the entire National Board will be elected by the membership. Then after the first election, half of the board seats will be up for election in a staggered manner. The 8 National Officer positions: 2, 4-10, as listed above…are all elected at the convention…BUT…proxy voting would now be STRICTLY PROHIBITED. Halle-flippin-lujah. That is also SAGcentric and personally a huge deal to me because it removes the collusion or favoritism of proxy voting, which helps make the convention process and concept less vulnerable to cronyism. If you can’t get to the convention, your vote goes begging, no handing it off to someone else…thank god.
These are some key elements to point out with regards to how the proposed merger agreement and constitution really do lean towards what SAG currently is in a lot of ways and hopefully I’ve also answered a few key questions for you as well. My best always, Kevin E.