Creating Hollywood's largest entertainment union, members of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have voted overwhelmingly to combine into a single bargaining unit.
In an resounding show of support, SAG members voted 82% in favor of the merger, while AFTRA members voted 86% in favor. That was well above the 60% threshold needed for the combination to take effect.
SAG represents 125,000 actors, extras and stunt performers in movies and television shows. AFTRA has about 70,000 members who are actors as well as singers, dancers, disc jockeys, sports announcers, comedians and broadcast journalists, among others. About 40,000 people hold membership in both labor groups.
The historic vote comes nearly two years after union leaders began discussions to merge in a bid to gain more leverage in contract negotiations with studios and to end a long history of jurisdictional disputes and feuding over negotiating strategy.
Under the plan, the new consolidated union will be called simply SAG-AFTRA. National officers, including the president and secretary-treasurer, would be elected directly by members. However, some other positions, such as an executive vice president, would be elected by delegates at a convention held every two years -- a concession to AFTRA's tradition of using conventions and delegates. SAG elects its officers directly by a vote of members.
Dues will increase for some members, including for current AFTRA-only members, and drop for others, including those who are already dual card holders.
The results represent a victory for leaders of both unions, who campaigned heavily to join forces after a bitter dispute erupted in 2008. At that time, AFTRA suspended its longtime bargaining partnership with SAG, which lost its traditional dominance in prime-time television as producers steered most of their contracts for new shows to AFTRA. SAG President Ken Howard and his supporters were elected on a pledge to merge with AFTRA.
Two previous attempts at combining the unions failed in 1999 and 2003, when 58% of SAG members voted to endorse it, falling just short of the required 60%. AFTRA members voted 76% in favor of the combination.
A group of actors including Ed Harris, Martin Sheen and Ed Asner recently filed a lawsuit to block the latest referendum vote, arguing that the SAG board breached its fiduciary duties to conduct an actuarial impact study detailing the effects of the proposed merger on health and pension benefits for SAG members. But a federal judge earlier this week rejected their request for an injunction blocking the ballot count.
-- Richard Verrier