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The Case for Membership First

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The Membership First candidates running for the Screen Actors Guild board of directors represent more than 170 years of board and committee service. This service includes, but is not limited to, negotiating SAG contracts, creating and implementing union policies, overseeing guild resources, and protecting benefits provided in our codified agreements. There is not one committee or task force within the guild that does not have the presence and active involvement of a dedicated Membership First board member.

Although others would like to disparage the party for their own political advancement, our accomplishments cannot be belittled or ignored. Here are just a few:

>The guild's surplus reserves are $33 million in 2008, two and a half times the amount in 2003.

>The establishment of new-technology, organizing, and research departments.

>Open Hollywood division board meetings for the first time in guild history.

>A renegotiated SAG Basic Cable Contract, which increased residuals.

Membership First considers the security and financial stability of SAG members to be major priorities. We will not dilute the strength of this wonderful union by merging with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, whose leaders have proved to be more concerned with the financial stability of the institution than the well-being of its more than 40,000 members who are actors. Membership First's goal is to place all actors under the representation of the Screen Actors Guild, with its strong contracts and well-funded pension and health plans.

Why merge with a union that has, since 2004, provided cheaper contracts to producers to the detriment of actors? Why merge with a union that has failed to organize major news networks on basic cable? Why merge with a union that denies members the right to view contracts? Why merge with a union that elects its president and other national officers via convention, with only a few hundred voting rather than the entire membership? [Editor's note: AFTRA disputes the above statements.]

Membership First sees no benefit in merging with a union with such opposing ideals, ideals that have damaged the financial security of dual cardholders. With its inferior contracts in basic cable, AFTRA has created an untenable scenario in which actors are competing against themselves. And based on what SAG negotiating committee members witnessed during the past jointly negotiated TV/Theatrical contracts, merging with AFTRA would certainly not give SAG leverage. It has done the opposite. There is no reason why AFTRA, which covers no features and less than 10 percent of prime-time scripted programming, should have 50 percent of the vote on the negotiating committee.

Membership First believes that merging with AFTRA is not the answer to union strength, security, and stability. Since the emergence of television, there have been 16 failed merger attempts. SAG membership has spoken and we continue to say, "We want all actors under one roof, but we don't want to merge with another union that represents nonactors." This is not an indictment against the members of AFTRA. SAG and AFTRA have more than 40,000 members in common. But it is a statement of distrust of the current AFTRA leadership, a leadership that appears to be more concerned with gaining jurisdictional territory at all costs than with protecting the wages and working conditions of actors.

Membership First also believes that once you have paid your initiation fees and your yearly dues and are a member in good standing, it is your obligation and a SAG constitutional right to vote on SAG contracts. We will protect a member's right to vote.

If a SAG member wants stronger contracts; residuals in all platforms; protection of your name, voice, and likeness; union coverage in all new media; the security of a strong pension and health plan; and the right to vote on contracts, then Membership First is the slate with the experience, knowledge, dedication, and conviction to get the job done.

Anne-Marie Johnson is a member of SAG's national board and a spokeswoman for Membership First. A full list of candidates can be found at www.membershipfirst.com.

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