After 80 years of on-and-off efforts to merge the two national talent unions, history was made March 30 when the members of national SAG and AFTRA voted in amazingly high numbers to approve the merger of the two labor organizations.
“The merger will immediately have a positive effect on our combined Chicago membership,” says Eric Chaudron executive director of Chicago SAG-AFTRA.
Nationally, SAG’s 55,000 members voted a whopping 82% for merger and AFTRA’s 37,000 members voted 86% pro-merger. As SAG-AFTRA co-president Ken Howard said Friday, March 30, when the votes were counted, “This is the day we have decisively chosen the path of unity and strength. This is the culmination of years of work.”
Pro-merger SAG member, actor/voiceover Steve Bayorgen, says he was “stunned” when he heard the 82% SAG approval. “It was a mix of emotions for me: elation, relief, excitement and shock. It’s a bold step forward in the right direction. Something I was surprised had not happened sooner.”
Says talent agent Lynne Hamilton, of Shirley Hamilton, Inc., “The whole idea of a merger is no surprise to us in Chicago. We’ve always been living with a merged union group in one office and we were just waiting for the rest of the country to catch up with us.”
Merger provides bigger benefits
One of the immediate benefits for former dual card-carrying members will be 20-25% decrease in the cost of their dues, since they now will pay just one set of dues. Another big advantage, Chaudron notes, “will be the movement to towards a single health and pension plan.”
Furthermore, the force behind the single, larger union will provide greater leverage at the bargaining table with national employers, “but also locally with broadcasters down the road,” Chaudron adds.
Having that strength in numbers appeals to Deb Doetzer, an. actor/voiceover. “We need to have one loud voice as we move forward negotiating contracts, since all of our producers are giant conglomerate corporations,” she says.
Since the local SAG-AFTRA branch has always been run as a single, combined union office, “We will essentially stay the way we are, a lean office with no redundant positions,” Chaudron says. “While other branches may have to make adjustments our local SAG-AFTRA branch is essentially in a good position.”
One post-merger change, however, is the status of the presidents of the two respective local unions. Ilyssa Fradin of SAG and Craig Dellimore of AFTRA will serve as joint co-presidents until their terms of office end in 2013.
National SAG president Ken Howard and national AFTRA president Roberta Reardon, similarly are now co-presidents of the new 92,000 member labor organization.
Chicago local one of the oldest and biggest
The Chicago SAG-AFTRA branch is one of the five biggest in the U.S., with 5,000 estimated members coming from the three Midwest states of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Pre-merger, the local serviced members in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, the Dakotas, and Wisconsin.
It is also one of the oldest branches. The original American Federation of Radio Actors was in effect here, the home of the daytime soap opera, shortly after its formation in 1937. The “T” in AFTRA, for “television,” was added in 1954.
Members work according to negotiated union rules and wages in studio and indie feature films; television and internet entertainment; TV, radio and web commercials; broadcasting, corporate, video games and sound recordings.