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AFTRA board gives two thumbs up on merger talks with SAG

January 23, 2011 |  9:00 am

Momentum continues to build toward the creation of a single actors union in Hollywood. The board of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists on Saturday night voted to continue a series of meetings with the leadership of the Screen Actors Guild about forming a joint union.

The board also set a May 14 deadline for a union committee to make a series of recommendations on a formal process for establishing a successor union that would represent actors and other performers.

Although no details have yet been agreed upon, the concept of merging has the backing of both union presidents, who have been holding a series of meetings with members around the country to discuss the topic.

"Our world of work is very different than it was the last time we tried to bring our unions together, so any new, successor union we hope to create must also be different, and to do that successfully, we must be guided by a clear vision for the future,''  AFTRA President Roberta Reardon said in a statement. "As we continue and advance this ambitious project in partnership with the Screen Actors Guild, I urge all AFTRA members -- performers, recording artists and broadcasters -- to imagine not just how good, but how much better we can be together."

SAG represents 125,000 actors while AFTRA has a more diverse membership of 70,000 members, which  includes not only actors but also news broadcasters and recording artists. About 40,000 actors belong to both unions.

Previous attempts to merge the unions in 1998 and 2003 failed amid concerns over how their health and pension plans would merge and whether SAG would lose its identity.  And they have often sparred over turf and bargaining strategy, triggering a suspension of their longstanding joint bargaining agreement in 2008.

But the unions have since made peace, paving the way for the current talks. Merging the unions is a top priority of Screen Actors Guild President Ken Howard and his supporters, who won a clean sweep in board elections in September.  They argue that merging the unions would give actors more clout at the bargaining table and improve health and pension benefits.

-- Richard Verrier 

 

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