The SAG-AFTRA merger. It’s difficult to talk about. Many of my fellow actors are feeling the same. Ever since I fell off the turnip truck here in Los Angeles, like every other actor, I found out real quick that I needed to get into the Screen Actors Guild. And, like many other actors, I grumbled and groused. SAG seemed like an impediment. I joined AFTRA – in the hopes of getting into SAG by getting a speaking part under an AFTRA contract. And that’s how I ended up getting my SAG card.
At the time, I didn’t really appreciate what it meant to be part of a collective bargaining unit — until I actually started working in the industry. SAG had clout. All the best agents, producers, casting directors, everyone used SAG actors. SAG contracts made it possible to make a living in the entertainment industry.
Post merger, we don’t really know.
Today was the last day the SAG logo and the letters spelling, “Screen Actors Guild” would be on the side of 5757 Wilshire Boulevard. Last week, a worker came to take the measurements for removal and replacement of the logo even before the merger votes were due in Everett, Washington.
I went and took photos of them. I asked a woman who was leaving the reception area to take my picture in front of it. She obliged, saying, “Oh, yeah. This is one of the last ones that is still up.” After the photo, as she moved to go, I looked at her and gave a sad face. She said, “Aw, it’s okay. It’s a new era.” Then, she turned with a flip in her step and walked away, almost jauntily. Yeah, I thought – a new era where we all get other jobs. If we can.
I don’t really wear such pessimism well, especially when it comes to unions. I’m a big supporter of workers’ rights – workers of all industries. I really want to get past this. I was completely against it; and I cannot comprehend the idea of merging these unions before working out the details, especially with regard to pension and health. Now, however, what we have is what we have to work with. We have to start somewhere. We can’t just give up. And even if we wanted to, I don’t think there is anywhere to run. Collective bargaining and the good jobs it brings is under fierce attack. I want to continue to work and to continue to remain an active, proud union member.
Yesterday, I finally called a friend and colleague who has worked really hard to protect the gains made by decades of struggle on the part of SAG members. Even then it was hard to talk about it. She said she’d just been quiet about it all weekend. “I think,” she said,”the hardest part is not being able to trust that the count was real.”
In view of all of the shenanigans jousting around SAG and its’ most recent leadership (i.e. lawsuits – including for breach of fiduciary duty and embezzlement; the scandalous removal of trustee Robert Carlson for expressing his opinion that the merger would be damaging to SAG’s Pension and Health Plan) and in view of the fact that hundreds of the most active SAG members have been lining up at “informational” meetings for the past few months to protest the sorry lack of a proper actuarial study to analyze the effect of the merger on the P&H Plan — in view of all of this, would’ntcha think the leadership would be more than keen to appear to be as transparent as possible when it came to counting and reporting this particular vote?
The League of Women Voters in Everett, Washington – a neutral, disinterested third party – was willing and ready to observe the count. One of our active SAG members arranged it. But SAG refused. Sean Gallagher, Senior Manager of Governance at the Guild told me over the phone on Friday that “the board made no provisions for there to be any observers.” Therefore, “there will be none.”
And my question is: Why Not?
Some have suggested that the new union be called, “SHAFTRA.” Still, I remain standing for a stronger union for everyone. The decision has been made. It’s up to us to build unity in an industry long divided.