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SAG-AFTRA Merger is Big News, but does it mean Big Change for You?

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Whether you are in the midst of a production or planning for one in the near future, it’s important to understand the facts. On March 30, 2012, SAG (the Screen Actors Guild) and AFTRA (the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) announced the immediate merger between the two unions, creating a combined union—SAG-AFTRA—that represents more than 150,000 film, television and radio performers, announcers, musical artists, stunt artists, and other media professionals.

 

 

The merger was overwhelmingly approved—81.9% of SAG members and 86.2% of AFTRA members who voted supported it. The move had been sought for decades as a way to combine the bargaining power of the two unions and to end competition between them. It created undoubtedly the largest and most powerful union in the media and entertainment industries in the United States.

But what does it mean for union signatories?

Until the Commercial Contracts are renegotiated, it effectively means very little.

The contracts for TV and radio commercials that were set to expire on March 31, 2012 were extended through March 2013 as agreed to by the unions and the ANA/4A’s Joint Policy Committee on Talent Union Relations (JPC). During the extension, all rates, terms and conditions of the 2009-2012 Commercials Contracts remain the same for existing signatories. Although the agreement to extend the collective bargaining agreements was reached last year, months before the SAG-AFTRA merge, the agreements cannot be changed except following negotiations set to begin in October 2012.

As announced by the new union, signatories should see little change in the day-to-day interactions with SAG and AFTRA staff. However, signatories should also be aware that there may be some initial confusion on what the merger entails.

So will the merger remain completely transparent to advertisers and agencies? The true impact of the move may not be felt until negotiations for the new Commercials Contracts begin in earnest in late 2012 and early 2013. As noted, one objective of the merger was to strengthen the bargaining power of the unions, but what difference it will make in practice remains to be seen, as in effect the Contracts had been jointly negotiated by SAG and AFTRA for decades.

One point to note is that the pension and health plans of each of the old unions remain separate. The future of the plans, and whether they will eventually be merged, remains up in the air. For now, signatories will continue paying into two plans.

If you have any questions on the impact of the merger or on any response or direction you get from union staff, please feel free to contact MRA.

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