Five Points about the SAG-AFTRA Merger

If you landed on our website, chances are you may be an entertainment professional directly impacted by the merger of SAG and AFTRA. Because there are still a lot of questions and buzz about the issue this blog post will highlight 5 key points (and a bit of history) regarding the SAG-AFTRA merger:

Founded in 1933 in order to curb the exploitation of film actors often forced into multi-year contracts with the major movie studios, the Screen Actors Guild is often considered a right of passage for an entertainment and creative professional. The organization provides standard protections for working conditions and contract negotiations.

In 1952 AFTRA emerged on the scene to protect actors and entertainment professionals in radio and television. Sharing jurisdiction of radio, television and new media with SAG, AFTRA handles contract negotiation and enforcement, legal advocacy lobbying, legislation and member benefits such as employer-paid health plans. AFTRA is also an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, the International Federation of Journalists and the International Federation of Actors.

Both unions have served the collective interests of entertainment professionals for decades. Before unions, actors were forced into agreements that did not restrict work hours or provide for minimum rest periods, and often had clauses which renewed contracts according to the studios. Contracts even went as far as to dictate the public and private lives of the performers. For these reasons, professionals value the work of SAG and AFTRA.

Effective March 30, 2012 SAG officially merged with AFTRA forming one union for entertainment professionals. The SAG-AFTRA merger represents more than 160,000 actors, broadcast journalists, dancers, singers, voiceover artists and other entertainment professionals.
The merger has sparked fierce debate and even a lawsuit in recent months.  Here are five frequently questioned subjects regarding the merger and the responses of SAG-AFTRA:

1. The merger of the unions will not affect the way that the pensions and health plan operate for its current members. 
The AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds and the Screen Actors Guild Pension & Health Plans are governed under their own trust agreements and considered to be separate from the unions.

2. The unions merged to increase bargaining strength. 
Protections including wages, residuals, safety and workplace protections and, of course, pension and health benefits were handled by the unions. The idea behind merging AFTRA and SAG is to increase the bargaining strength regarding union protections.

SAG and AFTRA members tend to work for the same clients. These clients include multinational corporations with substantial influence over the entertainment and media industries. The clients often divide work in several areas, making it more difficult for the unions to negotiate the best benefits and conditions for their collective members. SAG-AFTRA believes that such conditions leave entertainment professionals vulnerable to forms of competitive negotiation.

3. SAG/AFTRA will continue to be a non profit corporation under Delaware law.
Much speculation over SAG-AFTRA becoming a for-profit entity has circulated in recent months. According to SAG-AFTRA, this will not happen.

4. The intention of forming one union is to fight the spread of non union work.
SAG-AFTRA believes forming one union is the best way to curb the spread of non-union work. The merger seeks better paying jobs with strong benefits for its professionals.
Commercials, interactive games, new media, cable news, industrials, radio and television are seeing a greater availability of non-union work which can pay significantly lower wages to entertainment professionals and do not provide the protections and benefits that professionals can receive with union work.

5.  Member benefits will remain intact.   
SAG and AFTRA members have access to a wide variety of benefits. They receive the opportunity to get credit union memberships, scholarships, equal employment opportunity protections, health and retirement benefits, supplemental insurance and discounts on certain products and services. The merger, according to SAG-AFTRA, will not negatively effect or remove any previous union benefits.

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