Local AFTRA-SAG members to benefit from merger

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

A combined total of 190,000 members of Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists will vote on the merger of the two major talent unions at the end of February, with a final tally expected by the end of March.

If SAG and AFTRA members approve a proposed merger, more members could qualify for benefits, as well as increased bargaining power, says AFTRA/SAG Chicago executive director Eric Chaudron.

Supermajorities of SAG and AFTRA’s national boards voted last weekend to approve the formation of a combined SAG-AFTRA, eight decades in the making.

Sixty percent of each union — SAG’s 120,000 members and AFTRA’s 70,000 members nationally — must approve the merger in order for it to proceed.

AFTRA members approved mergers in 1999 and 2003, but SAG members fell short, with 58% support in the last round.  Some SAG members have resisted a merger on the grounds that the union should be for actors only and not join with the AFTRA membership that also includes broadcasters, singers, dancers and DJs.

One union would benefit all members

AFTRA/SAG Chicago executive director Eric ChaudronShould the merger pass, “We would be one union walking down the same path,” Chaudron says.  Performers “won’t have to be dual cardholders to make a living in this city.  Instead of paying two sets of dues to two unions, they’ll be able to pay one set of dues to be a member of one union.”

Chaudron represents 5,200 total members in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, the Dakotas, and Wisconsin.  That number includes 2,200 who are members of both unions, 1,000 who are AFTRA only, and 2,100 who are SAG only.

A major benefit will be for dual members who “work under both cards, and make reasonable money from both, but not enough to qualify for pension and health,” Chaudron says.  “This will mean all our members’ earnings will go toward one pension plan,” so more members would qualify. 

If the union merger is approved, the two unions’ health plans, which are separate entities from the unions, would begin merger talks. Chaudron expects this process to take up to five years.

While the details are being worked out, Chaudron says total dues for most dual members would likely be less after the merger, but some members of a single union might see their dues increase.

“We’re not anticipating a dues increase that will be unduly burdensome,” Chaudron says, but one that “would track cost-of-living and management expenses.”

Chaudron also touts the negotiating strength a combined SAG-AFTRA would have to counterbalance the power of increasingly consolidated and vertically integrated media companies.

Chicago office is formally an AFTRA local

Chicago has operated a joint office for 20 years.  “We are a model for how this can work,” Chaudron says.  “We’ve been successful in balancing the interests between SAG and AFTRA, between broadcast and freelance, between actors and singers.  Everybody gets a fair shake in our local.”

Chicago is one of several joint AFTRA/SAG offices, along with Boston, San Francisco, Washington, DC, and Atlanta. 

The local office is distinct, however, in having a fairly even mix of members from both unions, while AFTRA members significantly outnumber SAG members at the other joint offices. 

Like the other joint offices, though, the Chicago office is formally an AFTRA local and the 16 staffers are employed by that union, working for SAG on a contract basis.

Chaudron became executive director two years ago, replacing Eileen Willenborg, who retired after 15 years.  He had been a labor, employment and criminal defense attorney in Merced, California.  He has focused his tenure here on an ongoing campaign to organize freelance performers and sign more employers as signatories.

AFTRA Chicago communications director Linda Swenson says a web site on the proposed merger will be up in early February. 

She encouraged members of both locals to contact her about the merger effort at lswenson@aftra.org.  AFTRA/SAG Chicago is at 1 W. Erie, Ste. 650.  Call 312/ 573-8081.

For complete merger information, see SAGAFTRA.org