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Stubborn SAG Wants Merger

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) national board of directors has overwhelmingly recommitted itself to consolidation with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).

The board also has unanimously resolved to find a way to merge the two unions' pension and health plans, a major sticking point in the unions' last two attempts to marry.

By an 84% vote, the SAG board recommitted itself to the consolidation and affiliation effort during its Monday meeting. According to the approved resolution, the board based its renewed determination on the facts that 58% of voting members favored merger; that "more than 50% of the entire membership voted, the highest turnout in the history of the guild, and…many who opposed the plan nonetheless indicated support for the consolidation of SAG and AFTRA."

SAG had needed 60% of its voting members to favor consolidation, but fell 2% short. AFTRA saw 75% of its voting members approving the merger. Leaders of the SAG opposition had stated publicly that they favored merger, but not the specific plan offered to members.

The SAG board's Monday resolution also instructed the guild's AFTRA relations task force to seek members' suggestions for possible changes to the consolidation plan, and to meet with AFTRA's strategic alliance committee, consider the suggestions, and to recommend new action to the SAG board. The two union panels were the driving force for the recent consolidation effort. They met several times, even involving the AFL-CIO—finally recommending merger and forming documents, such as a constitution and business plan—for the proposed new union, the Alliance of International Media Artists (AIMA).

Hoping to Heal P&H

The SAG board's benefits-plan resolution reasoned that a single pension or health plan "may be in the interest" of SAG members and the plans' participants. The resolution added that the financial markets have negatively impacted the plans, requiring a reduction in health benefits, and that the guild would address the problems in future collective-bargaining sessions with producers.

The board then called upon the plans' trustees to "take all reasonable steps" in three areas:

• Studying whether a pension-plan merger would "provide a sounder basis to maintain" and enhance security of pension benefits.

• Deciding if merging the two health plans would prove cost efficient and "result in maximizing health benefits."

• Exploring consolidating the administrations of the two unions' plans.

The resolution also authorized the two plans' administrators to consult with trustee subcommittees and "a common set of consultants," and to recommend "alternative approaches" to merging the plans. The board also authorized the administrators to present a progress report no later than SAG's Oct. 18 plenary meeting.

McCord Responds

Kent McCord, SAG's national treasurer—who led the opposition to the consolidation and also opposes SAG National President Melissa Gilbert for the top post—stated support for exploring ways to merge the benefits plans but concern over the board's intent in recommitting to consolidation. Gilbert strongly supported consolidation, as did Gordon Drake, the third announced candidate for the SAG presidency.

"Looking at cost savings of certain administrative areas of pension and health, I think, is a wise thing to do," McCord told Back Stage on Tuesday. He said he hoped the guild would release the Mercer study—a report that covered a possible merger of the benefits plans—to the entire SAG membership so the actors can get a clearer idea of the problems and possibilities in merging the plans. He added that the guild should also release the new study it plans to conduct.

"We need to allow the members full access to the information so they can determine if it's in their interest to move forward with whatever results come out of the study," McCord opined.

McCord expressed concern that SAG leaders might be looking to only change enough of the AIMA documents to get the 60% needed for consolidation. But he added that a consolidation that could benefit all members is possible.

"There are means to create the autonomous entities that remain sovereign; and where we can do what they're talking about in the pension and health plans through scales of economy; cut costs so we can give more services; and in the area of collective bargaining create the affiliation between us—as we did with Phase One and with the commercials contract—to negotiate those areas where our charter is to protect wages and working conditions of members, whether broadcasters, recording artists or actors."

Phase One is the 1981 document through which SAG and AFTRA agreed to united activities such as joint board meetings and joint bargaining of major contracts, such as the upcoming commercials-pact talks in September.

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