SAG-AFTRA Settles on New Structure

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SAG-AFTRA’s national board took up some pressing housekeeping business at the Sheraton Universal Hotel this weekend in Los Angeles, including an organizational shakeup and lingering merger issues.

The union has been in the process of consolidating its staff following the merger last spring of Screen Actors Guild an the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, after which the two unions’ original 33 locals were consolidated into 25. On Sunday, the board approved locals operating in Atlanta, Arizona-Utah, Chicago, Colorado, Dallas-Fort Worth, Hawaii, Houston-Austin, Los Angeles, Miami, Michigan, Missouri-Kansas City-Nebraska, Nashville, Nevada, New England, New Orleans, New Mexico, New York, Ohio Allegheny, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco-Northern California, Seattle, Twin Cities and in Washington-Mid Atlantic. Members were assigned to locals based on a roster of zip code assignments.

That governance structure will remain in place through September 2013. Moreover, the number of national board seats allotted for the 25 locals was set at 70. The two largest locals, Los Angeles and New York, will have 28 and 16 board members respectively, according to a release. The 10 national officers also serve on the SAG-AFTRA national board, bringing its total size to 80.

The structure got unanimous approval, despite some SAG-AFTRA leaders being critical of staffing changes since the merger.

Actor Anne-Marie Johnson, a SAG-AFTRA national board member, has some harsh words for the united union, which announced that about 80 employees are departing through a voluntary severance program in September.

“My heart breaks for the legacy of the Screen Actors Guild,” Johnson, who led the Membership First faction of SAG, told Backstage in September. “You’ll definitely see more layoffs.”

At the weekend board meeting, David White, SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director, reported on the voluntary severance program, but the union didn’t release any updated figures.

Another point of merger contention, the reciprocity of the different unions’ budget and pension plans, was also addressed, but the details released were vague. The union said only that “discussions are progressing.”

Meanwhile, Ken Howard, one of the united union’s co-presidents, opened the talks with a defense of the merger, before moving on to pressing issues. Roberta Reardon, another co-president, informed the board that officials were in place for next year’s commercials contracts negotiation. Member meetings on the subject, where performers have expressed concern about ways to effectively monetize and track ad viewership, began in September.

Ray Rodriguez, the union’s co-lead negotiator for the commercials agreement, detailed how the committee would be made up of 17 members and 16 alternates including the national chairman, three vice chairmen and a local and regional codes liaison. The W&W Plenary, which is considering the members’ input, will meet Nov. 17-18 in Los Angeles to decide on the proposals.

One bright spot of news that was announced: General Counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland reported that the union has distributed $14.59 million to members through its foreign royalties program.

If uncollected, the union said, that money “would have been lost to members forever.” That was the only financial update noted in the meeting’s release.