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SAG-AFTRA Leader on Staff Exits: 'I Told You So'

SAG-AFTRA Leader on Staff Exits: 'I Told You So'
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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 this week.

"I wish there was a more eloquent way to say, 'I told you so,'" said Johnson, who led the Membership First faction of SAG and was a staunch advocate against the merger. "My heart breaks for the legacy of the Screen Actors Guild. You'll definitely see more layoffs."

Ned Vaughn, SAG-AFTRA's executive vice president, called Johnson "out of step" with her fellow members.

"Of course Anne-Marie Johnson is entitled to her opinion, but she remains out of step with the overwhelming majority of our members," Vaughn said in a statement to Backstage. "Forcing actors to pay for two separate organizations and staffs to cover the same work never made sense—that's one of many problems the merger fixed.

"She may want to go back to being divided, but most members are thrilled that we now have a single union making better, more efficient use of our dues dollars.

The merger agreement that married SAG and AFTRA earlier this year didn't specifically address if staff reductions would take place after the deal was completed.

But the unions' leadership did issue a "top 40 myth busters" document that did address the possibility of job cuts. 

"The merger proposal does not anticipate laying off staff members as part of the merger, which is different than saying that all staff members are guaranteed to keep their jobs," the document stated. "Staff members will be subject to losing their jobs for all the same reasons that exist now."

It added: "The merger plan provides for savings through attrition to ensure that important work currently in progress is not interrupted, and for elimination of duplication that now exists — for example two sets of board meetings, two sets of mailings, etc."

Meanwhile, White insisted the staff departures would improve the union's membership services.

"When you bring together two staffs with similar responsibilities and duties, there is naturally going to be some overlap and redundancy," David White, the union's national executive director, said in a statement.

In addition to the 80 staff members leaving this week, another 20 will leave in the coming months, according to The Hollywood Reporter. 

The combined union has about 640 staff members.

White said: "This program is helping us get our staffing levels right in a way that is respectful and reflects our priorities going forward.

"This also affords us a unique opportunity to improve our operational structure and to think differently about how best to serve members in the rapidly evolving industries in which they work," he stated. "We are taking seriously this opportunity to innovate and are pleased with the progress we've made to date."

Some of the departing employees revealed they had mixed feelings about the move.

“It’s bittersweet,” 35-year veteran Deborah Berg, who is director of knowledge management for the union, told THR. “SAG has been a great home for me." 

The severance package, Berg said, was “kind of like a gift that’s given me the opportunity to move on to the next chapter of my life.”

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