SAG-AFTRA MERGER IMPROVES ACTOR'S
WORKING CONIDITIONS, SHIFTS HOLLYWOOD
More than 150,000 actors will benefit from the recent merger of SAG and Aftra ‒ and not only because bases dues for dual cardholders will decrease from $243 to $198 per year.
In the big picture, no longer will producers be able to leverage one union against the other during negotiations.
"That was the big problem ‒ the two unions being pitted against each other," says Jennifer Bailey, a SAG member since 1993 currently appreaing in the "Thanking our Teachers" Exxon mobile campaign. "And the kicker was a few years ago when Afra negotiated separately and undercut SAG on most of the TV shows."
With the merger, SAG has addressed its key deficiency: Its perceived powerlessness.
The merger means that members of Aftra are now SAG members ‒ one reason why many SAG members were apprehensive about the merger. "You have to do work to get into SAG", says Kim Kopf, an SAG member for 27 years. "But anyone can join Aftra, and then when the merger happened, they would automatically be an SAG member, so there was a little bit of hesitation about that. But as long as the union is stronger, and joining with Aftra makes it stronger moving forward, I'm all for it."
"I feel very good about the merger," says Sherry Locher, an Aftra member since 2007 who recently appeared in the indie film 8:46. "It's one union now, so there are no longer two different rates, and I think that'll make a huge difference during contract negotiations."
Although the health benefit plans have yet to be worked out, most actors we spoke with were optimistic there would be efficiencies found in greater numbers. "It's up to the trustees as to what is the best course of action," says Jennifer Bailey. "Not everything is 100-percent laid out as to what's going to happen, but as far as I'm concerned, as it is now, it's going from bad to worse, so we do need some kind of a change. But it's like when you have a company that has 10 people as opposed to a company that has 1,000 people ‒ the rates for health insurance should be better, and people will now only have to qualify in one plan."
Indeed, it should be easier for actors to get medical and dental coverage. Prior to the merger, actors might do four or five Aftra jobs, and four or five SAG jobs and fail to qualify for either health plan. Now, as they're combined, all work will count toward on health plan.
The first test of SAG-Aftra's post-merger power will be staged this fall, when commercial contracts will be renegotiated, during which, according to the Union, "management will be pushing us to implement a completely new system for payng principal performers in national commercials."
One casting director we spoke with believes the merger will have little bearing on the reality of what's going on right now in commercial work in L.A.
"It feels like sixty percent of commercial work is non-union," says Cathy Reinking, who has cast for Frazier and The Office, as well as for commercials. "So you don't have as many of those lucrative national commercials that everbody used to dream about. And I don't think the [SAG-Aftra] union will reduce that number. I think that producers more and more want to cut costs, and I think they're finding enough good people who aren't union ‒ although I'm skeptical of that, but they must be getting enough. The more I talk to commercial agents the more sense I get that non-union is dominating right now."
Still, the tenor among actors is one of optimism. "I wasn't thrilled witht he idea of joining Aftra to get work," says Bailey. "They seemed a bit disorganized. So I'm really glad they merged, because I think the accounting of the membership dues, pension credits, and health plans will be accurately accounted for. I know AFTRA had something of an honor system, and I just don't know how that can work."
This is how it will work.
Congrats to all of my fellow union members for helping to make One Union happen. Many of us have been working to make One Union a reality since 1975. That said, remember Rule No. One.