SAG-AFTRA Merger: Series 3 of 5: Mixed Nuts

So this part of the series focuses on what we’ll call “the others.” No, it isn’t a movie reference, and it is also not meant in ANY way to lessen who they are or their value. The reason I use that phrase is that it is what “people think” or how they phrase it when not in mixed company. It is focused on all of the NON-dual SAG/AFTRA cardholders that aren’t really discussed as ACTORS. AFTRA has about 68,000 members nationwide and about 45,000 of them are SAG members too. This clearly leaves 23,000 AFTRA only folks, which are basically broken down as:

5500 Self-identified Broadcasters. (3.5%, Anchors, editors, Sports, between both unions.)
5000 Recording Artists (aka, singers)
12,500 (A mix of soap actors, actors that have only worked on AFTRA shows, background actors, and folks who probably just joined AFTRA and have never qualified for SAG. You can’t assume or call them “the others” really because believe me, there are a ton of SAG only and dual card holders that would fall into the one-time athlete who does a commercial or a person who got (3) vouchers and hasn’t worked since.)

So as an actor only individual I get why WE from the SAG side of things would say…why in the HELL do we need to merge. How about we just have the 45,000 actors just defect to SAG and we keep that as the “ACTOR UNION” and let “the others” have their ABBRA (American Broadcasters, Background and Radio Artists) Please note this doesn’t exist…I just made it up for this Blog.

Well while I get this, the answer for me is fairly simple. It is America, and we have options and dreams. Why should 45,000 have to defect if they’re already performers. A background person can book work, build a career…and maybe one day become a star and indeed singers do…from time to time (Jennifer Hudson / Whitney Houston) do movies and win actual Oscars. This is what makes this pile of “Mixed Nuts” so unique to discuss, negotiate, represent and collectively bargain for with our contracts.

The new merger agreement and constitution have a couple of KEY provisions in it to help alleviate certain concerns by those of us (and I do mean ME) about the perceived WEAKNESS of “the others” all being under one roof. The Broadcaster argument kinda comes down to this lovely little element they’ve put into the merger called, the Single work-unit (Keeps broadcasters in a box). Yes. A small portion of the Broadcasters can do that one job to retain their work DUES STATUS, but of course WE can work every contract. This is a way to keep the broadcasters happy and not wanting to decertify from the union but also protect actors. And sure broadcasters CAN step outside of their box, and work in movies or television and other contracts…but if they DO…then their dues % cost almost doubles and they can NEVER, repeat NEVER get back to the “Single Unit Work” Broadcaster only % even if they do just (1) job…with the new merger constitution.

And do remember that Affected Member voting exists. (It’s in the constitution as “Affected Thereby”) But, due to Phase 1, contracts negotiated under Phase 1 had to be sent to the ENTIRE membership for ratification. Which is why broadcasters can “vote on your contract.” This will be more defined. AFTRA did not send the interactive contract to the entire membership as Phase 1 was over. Just to the affected members. So do be sure that you bear in mind that IF everyone were under one roof, we’re able to alter and amend the constitution to make the MIXED NUTS be the most effective…by being “Affected only.”

Also a huge question I had, because I do believe strongly in the STRENGTH of going on strike and am commonly in FAVOR of striking when we need to, had to do with how a union of predominately actors but still with a mixed union then calls a strike under this new SAG-AFTRA one-union construct. The answer is that strikes may be called when 75% of the members affected thereby voting on the question approve.

The National Board will determine who is affected by a contract, for either ratification or strike votes. This will ultimately be at the discretion of any given board, but I would always argue for a narrow interpretation of who is affected. I don’t believe actors would ever be given determinative voting power over broadcast contracts – except to note that actors will dominate both the national board and executive committee, and could, if they chose, exert influence in that way. But I can’t see actors ever being allowed to participate in the underlying strike vote of a broadcast contract. Just as, similarly, Broadcasters would not be involved with the voting and/or work stoppage of the performers contracts.

Plus you have the whole Broadcaster “walking across the hall” issue and working non-union because of the failure to organize (meaning unionize) that work over the years with the Networks could have a different future. With this agreement/merger it doesn’t guarantee anything but keeping the Broadcasters more in a “box” as a resolution, coupled with “One Union” but there is a certain logic to “hope to” in the future be able to organize more of that Larry King work. Remember, that we’re not just one group, even as actors as you’ll see in Part 4 with regards to Contracts and Money, but when the employer for one union contract is the SAME employer who is NOT making certain types of work union, it does logically stand that you might have a better shot when you’re one group. Certainly there’s no way to do it without being one, because it hasn’t happened to date. Lastly it also improves the chances of creating better background zones and figuring out a better solution to the 3-voucher system, which I’ve already mentioned I will be writing a proposal for IF the vote passes.

And finally in the bag of “Mixed Nuts” is once again the election of officers and the board as it pertains to “the others.” The convention is a smaller body than the full membership, no doubt, but the delegates are all directly elected by the membership. This requires more buy in and involvement by those who want to be a part of the process. I can see it being very democratic and involving and most modern unions have a convention. It’s a unique way to meet your actor counterparts across the country but also a way for the actor folks to meet broadcasters. We may not all be immediate family but in the end, we are all related in this crazy business. Knowing your neighbor makes it easier to work with and for your neighbor. Keeping them strangers foments fear and antipathy. But remember my big statement about the difference that this agreement (if passed) makes about convention, NO proxy voting, and the ballot election of the Prez, Sec./Treasurer and National Board.

In the end, yes, I’m completely biased and partial to actors, whether they’re in movies, TV, daytime TV, V/O, Commercials or anywhere else. But the ONE equalizer in this Mixed Nuts conversation is technology and technology is making us all more ONE (as people a part of the entertainment process and product) in terms of what we’re fighting for when it comes to COLLECTIVE bargaining. We cannot afford to go any further backwards, and I don’t see too much based on the proposed new Constitution that has me thinking that being 80% actors, and 20% “the others” is going to keep us from being incredibly strong. Humans, by nature, do not like change…and I say with complete confidence after my time in L.A. that actors likely even dislike change more than the average person so I am respectful of how afraid of a change this feels.
My best always,
Kevin E.

One Comment on “SAG-AFTRA Merger: Series 3 of 5: Mixed Nuts”

  1. Just wanted to jump ahead a bit and say “Yes!” It has driven me crazy that there is no “hours earned” sort of system in place for joining SAG. I became SAG-e through vouchers. Did those hours put in as an extra really make me ready to make the leap to “professional” actress? No, but all those hours on the set of student shorts, webseries and ultra low budget films, including the infamous SAG experimental contract that no longer exists, did. I paid my dues on set and it those hours that should have earned me my union card, not the luck of the voucher system. It is in place already, our hours are reported to SAG, why not start adding them up and let novice actors truly earn their place in the union?

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