I am a member of SAG and AFTRA. After reading John Sucke's response to petition signers in N.Y. ["SAG Responds to Anti-Mergerites and WIPO," Back Stage, Feb. 14], I find myself in the same state as Shelby Scott [AFTRA's national president]. She's quoted later in the article, saying she's "terribly dismayed" regarding SAG's position on WIPO. It is clear to me what she also questions--that the "new" union would not be capable of understanding and addressing the needs of its diverse constituencies.
If the executive director of SAG in NYC doesn't comperehend the impact on his local membership, what are the chances that the disc jockey in Cincinnati will give the slightest consideration to the background player in NYC and vice versa? Sucke's denial of NYC extra and daily workers' very realistic concerns, calling them "misinformed" and implying they "fan the fires of fear," unfortunately adds insult to potential injury. The current dismal state of both unions will not be solved by a lemming-like rush to merger with no plan for details.
Twenty years ago, I had to qualify for AFTRA membership by getting acting work on television--and not extra work--that was for the Screen Extras Guild in LA. In time, I turned to making video tapes. Because during that period there was no place in TV for non-documentary tapes that weren't dramatic narratives, I moved into the fine arts arena. After moving to Utah in '79, I pulled a withdrawal card from AFTRA. For the next 15 years, although I was an active SAG member and still picked up work in film, I was most proud of my AFTRA membership because the genesis of this union was the early days of television, when there was still a place for individual artists.
After I moved back to N.Y. to refocus on my mainstream acting career, I found AFTRA had become an "open union." Anyone could buy a membership in the "Television and Radio Artists" Union. Quite shocking.
At first I refused to pursue background work in N.Y. because (1) I couldn't afford to--temping in offices and adjunct lecturer work paid twice as much ("Extra" work paid about $90 per day in 1975; it now pays a whopping $99); and (2) I feared the repercussions to my career. But "extra" work would get me on sets to update my working knowledge of current film and TV processes, and allow me to observe various directors and actors at work. Here in N.Y., there is not the same level of stigma attached to doing background work that exists in L.A. So, while I'm not a regular background worker, I get some of that work and know the situation first hand.
AFTRA's figure for NYC local membership is 24,000, so I wonder about Sucke's 5,000 figure. And what in God's name could he possibly mean by "SAG members wanting the opportunity to work AFTRA jobs"? Surely he knows that any SAG member can be eligible immediately for any AFTRA job simply by plopping down $837. And since when is SAG membership so easy to get that AFTRA members would simply have to seek it?
After reading NY/SAG Executive Director John Sucke's incredible remarks in the Feb. 7 issue of Back Stage, I have some questions.
1. Mr. Sucke says: Those SAG members who are against the merger are "misinformed." QUESTION: What attempt has either union board made to "inform" us with facts that would prove the merger to be beneficial to the members of both unions?
2. Mr. Sucke says: "It's hard to get facts for people." QUESTION: How could a decision for merger be made by the union boards without "facts" that would support that decision?
3. Mr. Sucke says: Most of the 5,000 NY/AFTRA members who would come into the new union are not actors. He tells us not to worry about a "flood" of Aftrans coming in to take away job opportunities because, "In reality, AFTRA members not in SAG haven't joined because they don't seek SAG work." QUESTION: Why do they want to merge with SAG if there is no SAG-covered work they want?
4. Mr. Sucke says: In regard to the rather vital concern of health benefits being more difficult to obtain after a merger, "That's not been announced to be true, and I don't expect it to be true." QUESTION: Why hasn't it been "announced" to the members that the costly studies commissioned by the union boards have returned the unwelcome findings that the current SAG and AFTRA P&W programs cannot be feasibly merged?
5. Mr. Sucke says: "SAG members who are not in AFTRA would love to work on 'The Cosby Show,' 'Letterman' and the soap operas." QUESTION: Have you forgotten, Mr. Sucke, that any SAG member (or anyone in the world) can be eligible to work on any of those shows merely by paying the AFTRA initiation fee? Nobody has to wait for a merger to join AFTRA.
6. Mr. Sucke says: "If you're against open membership, the merger is the best way to stop it. The new union won't have open membership." QUESTION: Since we at SAG already have a membership that is limited to professional actors, why do we need a merger to stop open membership?
The bottom line, Mr. Sucke, is that your "rebuttal" has given SAG members no valid reasons to vote for a merger. As a SAG, AFTRA, and AEA member, I see no value in a merger at this point in time. If I am "misinformed," please give me and all SAG members sound, factual reasons why we should support the SAG/AFTRA merger.
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