Why the SAG/AFTRA Merger is a bad idea!

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Being a member of a union of any kind doesn’t necessarily mean you are a pro-labor,  wonk spinning, anti-capitalist!  Unions in the United States have been around since the early days of Railroads and the Industrial Revolution….when workers were under paid, had terrible working conditions and left a raft of widows and orphans in the wake of uncaring Land & Railroad Barons.  The plight of mine workers is well documented and even today, those folks keep dying from time to time while working in horendous conditions for moderate pay.  The many jobs that could endanger life soon was plant food for other groups of so-called deprived workers and Guilds of Workers.  The ancient Masonic Guilds that built the temples of Eqypt and beyond used secrecy and plegdes of devotion not to release the information of their work to those uninitiated.  Doctors, Lawyers, CPA’s and other have followed suit, in the so-called Professions which require standards of effort and application.

As a member of the Retail Clerks Union in 1957, one was allowed to become a Box Boy at the local Food Market Chain.  If you wanted to make big money, you could have moved to Detroit and become a member of the United Auto Workers that negotiated with Ford, Chrysler, GM and a long list of lesser known manufacturers of Automobiles….made in America!  While the Box Boy earned $1.57 an hour, when minimum wage was $1.25….almost anyone that worked in Detroit for the Big Three was making $6.75 and above.  That was a lot of money in 1957.  Sure, they had yearly lay-offs when demand was down, but most of those folks were working 8 to 10 months a year, at very big wages.

Today, Teachers, Bureaucrats and Public Employees of almost every stripe – belong to a Union.  The amount of political clout with elected lawmakers is immense and rivals the power of big corporations, monied interests and unified fronts of Political organizations and associations.  When one considers the amount of money accumulated by such entities as CALPERS and CALSTRS…..one starts to wonder why there are little or no constraints on how they can apply those funds to Political Action Committees, Independent Expenditures and the general application of Walking Around Money…..WAM is the mother’s milk  of politics they say!  In the words of Carl Sagan:  “Billions and Billions!”

Today after several years, the Boards of the Screen Actor’s Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.  Don & Ken, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly as well as Matt Lauer and Ann Curry would be typical AFTRA members.  Sometimes most civilians believe that Actors and Performers, Stunt Folks, NFL Television Camerafolks and almost anyone you see on camera on the Internet including Kim Kardashian all must belong to the Screen Actor’s Guild.  This is not true…..Stunt Folks have their own Union, Camerafolks their own, Directors…..of every stripe…their own, Producers….their own.  The list and the complications are even deeper than that…..There is also a very powerful…Writer’s Guild….not supposed to be Union….but it still negotiates heavily with the Studio Execs, Producers and the Distribution Companies.

SAG has pretty close to 120,000 members…..AFTRA about 70,000 members.  The concept is that together they would be stronger than each by themselves.  This concept has led to Actor and President of SAG, Ken Howard taking the lead in joining the two Unions (Guilds and Associations) together; in order to force the folks with the money to pay both groups more.  This is a very bad idea and the main reason is this:  Actors like Kate Winslet, John Trivolta, Ben Kingley, Helen Mirren, George Clooney, Clint Eastwood and so many others….are actually talented, gifted beings that have little in common either in desire or intention with the likes of Chris Colinsworth or Al Michaels or even John Madden.

The point is fairly clear:  Each Union, Guild or Association needs to target the needs of their own constituencies.  When messages are mixed…..the results are usually less than desired.  Television, the Internet, The Movies and even Smart Cell Phones can all be called “The Entertainment Industry”, yet each one of those segments offer entirely different types of Entertainment for entirely different types of audiences and performers.  Reality TV will never replace Classical Literature or translating a great historical event to the Silver Screen with the power and effect of modern technology.  The Titanic and Avatar by James Cameron are examples of a theatrical experience along with the Star Wars saga….that mark the line between SAG and a non-application of AFTRA as the viable entity that should negotiate Union and Guild Wages for Big Budget Block Busters.  Perhaps, those days are numbered.  Perhaps, there will be no more Studio Block Busters….maybe everything is going be shot on a cell phone and delivered on You Tube!

We doubt that movies will cease to be made by major Studios in the future!  Whether those Studios will be headquartered in Beijing, Shanghai, Dubai, Mumbai, Delhi, Indonesia, London, Paris or Hollywood.  The need for the Screen Actor’s Guild exists during these very transitory times because Actor’s need protection from uncertainty, abusive employers and simply as a safety net.  Right now, 40,000 members of both SAG and AFTRA belong to both Unions.  They argue that because the Unions are not joined; They cannot qualify in wages to get Health or Dental Insurance in either Union.  Our solution is fairly straightforward:  Join the Health and Dental Plans together for both Unions.  This action would not require a coalition or merger of both Unions….only a simple vote by the membership of the separate unions; to apply earnings from both Unions to qualify for Health and Dental Insurance on an annual basis.

SAG has a history or excellence that neither requires joining with AFTRA nor could that action do anything but lower the bar by use of merger card.  AFTRA has tradtionally always voted upwards of 76% in favor of Merger.  SAG has voted 48% in favor.  There is a message in that obviously AFTRA is the one that wants the heft from SAG….not the other way around!

The vote of the membership probably comes in April and it is our hope that any SAG Vote for Merger…..will fail again!  We don’t need it, we don’t want it and any Administration or General Accounting Expenses that efficiently can be joined together…..could be done without creating a formal coalition.

If AFTRA is not willing to make these concessions….then undoubtedly they had something else in mind….and we are not buying it.


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About Ron & Anna Winship

Independent News Producers/Writers and Directors for Parker-Longbow Productions. Independent Programming which includes a broad variety of Political, Entertainment and Professional Personalities. Cutting Edge - a talk show...is the flagship of over 30 URL websites developed or under development. The Winships have been blogging for the Orange Juice since back when nickels had buffalos on them, and men wore onions attached to their belts, because it was the fashion back then.