In a huge turnout, over 80% of the voters from SAG and AFTRA chose merger, when in 1999 and 2003 they couldn’t get 60%. So what changed? Why now? And what does it mean to you?
Clearly the two unions are stronger and more unified when combined. The New York Times described the merger as creating “the largest and most powerful union in the entertainment and media industries.”
The approval joined the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) — which represents actors in movies, television and commercials — with the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists (AFTRA), whose membership extends to journalists, talk show hosts, broadcasters, singers, dancers, announcers, and disc jockeys. The new union membership is over 150,000 people.
The Los Angeles Times said they merged to gain more leverage in contract negotiations with studios and to end a long history of jurisdictional disputes and feuding over negotiating strategy.
The Associated Press said the decision to negotiate the prime-time TV and movie contracts separately in 2008 and 2009 caused a rift that allowed the studios to play the unions off each other. That strategic mistake led SAG members to bring in new leaders, who made merging a top priority.
The merger also makes the unions financially stronger. SAG-AFTRA aims to build a reserve fund to enable members to strike for six months if necessary.
Variety sited other reasons for the union: solving the problem of performers not qualifying for coverage under separate SAG and AFTRA health and pension plans and a logical response to the trend of consolidation among entertainment conglomerates.
But fear was a critical factor that motivated the formation of SAG-AFTRA. Both unions have watched the rapid erosion of union power across the country. In states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, an anti-union battle has been waged by powerful interests that have set back the labor movement. It was time for SAG and AFTRA to set aside their differences and become a more powerful force against the studios.