Anti-Merger Group Gearing for Drive

A group of Screen Actors Guild members opposed to current consolidation efforts with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists appears ready to offer an alternate consolidation plan to the SAG membership.

Bonnie Bartlett, a SAG member and the wife of William Daniels, former guild national president, called Back Stage last week to say that a SAG group had offered the alternate plan to Robert Pisano, national executive director-chief executive officer of SAG. But Pisano had turned the plan down, in effect refusing to offer it to the guild's national board of directors.

According to Ilyanne Kichaven, SAG's national communications director, the group presented its proposal "to the SAG AFTRA Relations Committee last week. They brought this proposal to the joint committee and the joint committee considered this proposal when formulating their recommendations on consolidation and affiliation. These recommendations are what will be presented to the joint national boards this weekend."

The SAG and AFTRA boards will also consider a new name, constitution, and business plan for the proposed merged union at this meeting. If the boards approve all that, they could call for a referendum on the new union to go to members of both organizations by this summer.

Bartlett said her group wouldn't take its proposal to the joint board meeting this weekend, but would call a press conference sometime after the meeting—perhaps the following week—to offer the alternate plan directly to the membership. It wasn't clear if the group's plan is to seek a separate referendum, or to place enough doubt in members' minds so they don't vote for the current consolidation proposal.

Bartlett refused to name who was included in her group, but said it had two leaders—neither one her—and would include some celebrities.

In mid-March, Bartlett, SAG Treasurer Kent McCord, board member Frances Fisher, and others attended "A Tea to Save SAG," held at the home of SAG board alternate Renee Taylor. At the time, Bartlett told The Hollywood Reporter that the gathering was only an "informational tea to talk to people about what is going on. This is not a militant group, and this is not a personal battle," she said. "We just want to get this right."

Bartlett told Back Stage last week that she and her cohorts want a consolidation that will bring all actors together, but expressed displeasure with Pisano and with the current plan, although she would not be specific about the problems in the current offering. She said those details would come forward in the future.

McCord, however, speaking recently with Back Stage, expressed strong concern about having a union authority outside SAG itself that would control the finances supplied by SAG members' dues. Bartlett appeared to be worried about a new union board—which would include AFTRA members—that would have ultimate authority over policies governing SAG members.

Bartlett and the dissenting group apparently will have a tough battle ahead. Pisano has indicated that SAG is ready to spend $1.6 million to market the present consolidation plan to members. Both the SAG and AFTRA boards appear strongly in favor of the plan, and it has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO executive council. John Sweeney, the AFL-CIO's national president, has also openly endorsed the plan, even traveling to Hollywood to meet with SAG and AFTRA leaders to discuss actions to assure consolidation's success.

Also, the SAG leadership appears to be altering the consolidation plan as they go, responding to some members' complaints. The leadership recently announced that the Actors' Affiliate (SAG) constitution would adopt the membership qualification requirements currently applied by SAG. "In response to member input," the leadership said it would add a provision to the Consolidation and Affiliation Agreement allowing for the tightening of entrance requirements specifically applicable to background performers.

"The joint committee recognized that the current three-voucher system in place for background actors in SAG has a number of inherent problems and must be eliminated and replaced with a more restrictive method of qualification," said SAG President Melissa Gilbert. "Both boards will be addressing this issue directly." Gilbert did not elaborate on what the "more restrictive method" would involve.

What's In a Name?

Meanwhile, the SAG AFTRA Relations Task Force and the AFTRA Strategic Alliances Committee—comprising the panel simply called "the joint committee"—have announced decisions on recommended names for the proposed new union and affiliates.

The committee will recommend that the new union be named the Alliance of International Media Artists (AIMA) and that the three affiliates—for actors, broadcasters, and recording artists, respectively—be called Screen Actors Guild (SAG), American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), and American Federation of Recording Artists (AFRA).

Also last week, wrapping up three days of work on various charter documents and issues related to the proposed consolidation, the joint committee announced it had finalized the recommended constitutions and bylaws for the new union and its three affiliates. These documents outline the governance structure, membership requirements, and other items related to the operation of the four entities, and will be submitted to the national boards for approval at a joint videoconference on Sat., April 12. The new union's name will also be considered.

AFTRA President John Connolly and SAG's Gilbert co-stated, "These materials will provide the foundation for a new strong and effective organization, protecting artists' rights and interests in the global marketplace."

The two boards on Saturday will also receive the Consolidation and Affiliation Agreement, which details procedures for a limited transition period, during which time the new union would be governed by an interim board, comprised of current SAG and AFTRA national board members. The current union presidents would serve as co-presidents; the current treasurers as co-treasurers; and the current national executive directors would serve jointly as well.

The materials to be presented to the boards will also outline the new union's proposed dues structure and initiation fees.

AFTRA's Connolly said, "Incorporating concerns from these hard-working performers is completely consistent with the committee's ongoing examination of issues raised by hundreds of members, individually and collectively, during this incredible process, including the needs of broadcasters and recording artists. While employment environments may differ, we clearly all share, as workers and employees of the very same corporations, far more in common than not."