SAG, AFTRA Inch Closer to Merger

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Efforts to merge the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists are moving ahead, though not quite so fast as some have suggested. The next big step in the process will take place in May, when SAG and AFTRA hold their respective national board meetings. According to sources close to and directly involved in talks between the two unions, those meetings will likely see the creation of committees charged with drafting a formal merger plan.

“What will come out, hopefully, from the AFTRA plenary is an order from the national board to go forward and seat the official committee that will do the official work of combining the unions,” said AFTRA president Roberta Reardon, whose board meets May 14. The committee "will create the plan,” she added.

A report Friday in Variety claimed that a formal plan to marry the two unions “will probably emerge when SAG's national board holds its plenary meeting on April 30 and May 1.” Reardon and other sources who spoke to Back Stage emphasized that no formal plan has been drafted or will be introduced at or around the May meetings.

Reardon and SAG president Ken Howard have for the last few months been participating in a “listening tour” to gain member feedback on merger. Reardon characterized the work being done at those events and by the joint Presidents’ Forum for One Union—on which both she and Howard sit—as “a very high-level, informal” process. She also said that the time frame for merger will likely be discussed at the April 2–3 meeting of the President’s Forum in New York, but added, “I certainly don’t expect it [the merger plan] to be done this year.”

One source close to talks between the unions shed light on what the next step will be once the merger committees are seated.

“The plan will be developed by the full merger committee, which cannot even be formed until both unions meet at their spring plenaries,” the source said. “Assuming the two boards decide to proceed and form their respective committees, then the combined committee will meet, and whatever plan is agreed to will be brought back to the two national boards for their approval.”

Once a plan gains approval from the national boards, it will be sent to the full memberships of both unions for ratification. The last attempt to merge the two unions failed in 2003, when AFTRA members voted in favor of merger, but the SAG vote fell just short of the 60 percent approval needed to ratify the plan.