Actors unions to huddle for nine days of merger talks
Representatives of the Group for One Union, which comprises elected officers from the Screen ActorsGuild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, will begin a series of meetings at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel to hash out a merger agreement that would include a proposed constitution and dues payments for a combined union.
The plan will be presented to the boards of SAG and AFTRA later this month. If the boards accept it, the proposed merger agreement would be sent to members for a vote. The merger would be ratified only if it was approved by at least a 60% vote margin. A merger referendum could be held as early as April.
SAG, the entertainment industry's largest union, represents about 125,000 actors, while AFTRA has 77,000 members, including not only actors but also broadcasters, dancers and talk show hosts. About 40,000 members belong to SAG and AFTRA.
Two previous attempts at a merger failed, most recently in 2003. But this time there is strong support on both sides. SAG and AFTRA want to avoid a repeat of the destabilizing turf war that erupted in 2008, when AFTRA suspended its longtime bargaining partnership with SAG and negotiated a separate prime-time TV contract with the studios. The split severely weakened SAG's bargaining position with the studios.
This marks the fifth and most important gathering for the so-called G-1 group since it was established this summer after nearly two years of negotiations between the leaders of both organizations.
Neither SAG nor AFTRA would comment on the proceedings, which are confidential. In a recent interview with The Times, however, SAG President Ken Howard said the sides had made considerable progress in talks and that he was optimistic an agreement would be reached by the end this month.
While the sides have reached agreement in some areas, such as how members and officers should be elected, several vexing matters have yet to be agreed upon. Among them: what to name the new union.
-- Richard Verrier
Photo: Screen Actors Guild President Ken Howard. Photo courtesy of Ken Howard.