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Approximately 20 members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) protested outside Museum Square, where both local entities are located, last Thursday, voicing their displeasure with the proposed SAG-AFTRA merger.
Ballots have been mailed out, and organizers are beginning to receive them back, though no official tally is likely until the March 30 deadline. A lawsuit has been filed to stop the vote.
Protestors have been congregating outside Museum Square every Thursday for the last several weeks. Last week, several said they feel that merger proponents have not done enough research to determine the future of their healthcare plans and pensions, and that organizers have not been forthcoming with information. Actor David Hillberg, who is a member of both unions, said he has more than 50 questions that remain unanswered.
“They’ve ignored all my requests to have them answered,” Hillberg said. “They don’t care if it’s detrimental to all the members.”
He said merger proponents have suggested that any issues that arise from the merger could be fixed after the fact. Larry Gelman, a member of both unions since 1966, agreed, saying the organizations are spending millions to promote the merger without doing the proper analyses.
“I feel like I’m in enemy territory,” Gelman said. “It just hurts me so badly. I feel betrayed.”
He said proponents plan to merge the SAG and AFTRA pensions, but they haven’t done an actuarial study to determine if it’s possible. They are not answering questions regarding the pensions either, Gelman said.
Furthermore, the two unions are organizing under the labor laws of Delaware, he said. Gelman said the state has loose labor laws, which would be against the best interest of the membership.
“We have stringent laws here in California,” he added.
Jason George, who sits on the national board for both unions, said there is plenty of misinformation circulating about the merger. He suggested that interested parties analyze the official opposition statement, which is factual and has been vetted by both unions.
George said the trustees who preside over the pension and healthcare plans are the only people who know the true impact of merging both plans. He said there are no absolute answers.
The SAG pension plan has been losing contributions from television, as AFTRA has been securing pilots “at an incredible rate,” George said. If that continues, SAG members would see their eligibility requirements and premiums go up, he said.
“I don’t know how it can stay the same when it’s bleeding television,” George said, adding that the producer trustees who oversee the plans would not spend a dime to further examine those impacts, especially with the SAG plan failing, until the merger is completed.
He said some members are not eligible for health insurance because they split their time and earnings between both unions. A merger would fix that, George said.
“That right there is a huge bonus from where we’re currently at,” he added.
Negotiating power has played a large role in proponents pushing for the merger, though opponents said the unions had negotiated together in the past. While SAG and AFTRA did negotiate contracts together for several years before 2008, George said the unions only “joint negotiate when everyone plays nice.” He said each board has a vote before signing a major contract, which, in essence, is a vote of peace or war.
“It’s a very precarious position we’re in,” George said.
He said elected positions will continue to be volunteer positions with the merger, though opponents have said the new leadership will be paid. George said Roberta Reardon, AFTRA’s president, recently received a stipend due to the hours she’s put in while on a national listening tour about the merger.
While he believes the merger will benefit both unions, he said he understands some members’ reluctance. George said the merger will provide an opportunity to strengthen AFTRA and SAG.
“Merger is not the silver bullet that solves all problems,” he added.
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VOTE NO FOR MERGER !!AND THEN VOTE HELL NO AGAIN FOR SAG MERGER !!!!!