s skippy the bush kangaroo: Why I'm Voting "No" on the SAG-AFTRA Merger Part 1

skippy the bush kangaroo

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why I'm Voting "No" on the SAG-AFTRA Merger Part 1

[ed. note: this post is by Gil Christner, one of the founding editors of Skippy International. He is a working member of both performers unions and active in SAG Union politics.]

I did my first Screen Actors Guild job in 1979 when I had one line in “More American Graffiti.” I played a hippie in a commune who refused Candy Clark’s plea for money to bail her boyfriend out of jail. I remember the line well: “He still owes me 50 for that key I fronted him.” What Acting! Bravo!

I joined AFTRA a couple of years later when I did a commercial under that contract. So I have been a proud dues-paying member of both performers’ unions for over 30 years. And I must say that both Unions have done well by me; I have made a living under SAG contracts for nearly 20 years (not to mention the great health benefits I got and the Pension I am getting), and AFTRA was instrumental in recovering money from a producer who used tape of me in a TV show without my knowledge or permission. I am glad to be a member of both esteemed organizations.

Yet I am voting “No” (two times…one ballot per union) on the current SAG-AFTRA merger proposal. Now, make no mistake, I am definitely NOT against the merger of the two unions in theory. But there are many many reasons why I think this specific proposal is not only bad for the Screen Actors Guild members, but bad for Middle Class Actors all across the country as well.

On the surface, merger of the two actors unions sounds like a great idea. In fact, the surface idea of it is one of the main talking points that the pro-merger side is touting. What could be better than all actors in one Grand Union, working together, battling Management for the betterment of its members? Solidarity forever, Together United, We’ll Never Be Divided, The People Yes!

Unfortunately, there is one large detriment to the specifics of SAG merging with AFTRA in my view, and it flies directly in the face of Union Solidarity.

For those unaware of the specifics of the two actors unions, AFTRA not only represents actors in television and radio, it also represents Broadcasters: On Camera News people, Sports and Weather Casters, Announcers, etc. And putting aside the question of whether Broadcasters’ work and contract problems are the same as Actors, putting aside the question of whether Broadcasters would have voting rights on Actors contracts, or whether they would even honor an Actor picket line, I have a huge HUGE prhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifoblem with the current paradigm of Broadcasters and Union work.

Simply put, Broadcasters work off the card (non-union) with impunity. AFTRA never punishes union Broadcasters for working non-union shops (and there are plenty of non-union shops: CNN, Fox Sports, etc). I am unwilling to consider merging the Screen Actors Guild, whose Global Rule One is Don’t Work Non-Union, with a union that refuses to enforce a similar, fundamental definition of what it is to be in a Union. I forsee a weakening of union standards, and probably union effectiveness, if it’s accepted behavior to work non-union.

[we will provide Gil with space to air more reasons later - ed.]

here's part 2
here's part 3
posted by skippy at 2:25 PM |


[NOTE: the following response, which I endorse, was emailed to me by SAG National Board Member Assaf Cohen.]

Merger opponents have been demonizing broadcasters for 30+ years with this same straw man argument.

When someone who works union at NBC goes to work at MSNBC (or CNN, Fox Sports, etc), he/she isn't “working off the card” because we haven't yet been able to organize those networks - it’s not yet covered work. Some anti-merger voices have similarly vilified SAG and AFTRA actors who provide narration and voice-over for those same uncovered basic cable channels. Yet another example of this is areas without background agreements, where background work isn’t covered and and a union background performer can work non-union with impunity. Just like broadcasters on non-organized networks, these union members are not “working off the card” - they are working a job that has not been covered by a union. Let us be consistent.

Broadcasters WANT to those jobs to be union! They want to collect pension credits and earnings on that income, but haven't been able to do so. As AFTRA's National Executive Director explained at February's informational meeting, AFTRA took those networks to court to push for union coverage but ultimately the court sided against AFTRA. They tried but they need more muscle. They're asking for SAG's help to organize this type of work. Blaming them for working non-union here is a bit like accusing a homeless person of loitering. It's a bit cruel, especially when he's asking for your help.

Do the broadcasters wish all their work was organized? You bet. And it can be one day, if we can stop wasting our resources in two unions fighting each other and instead have one union with the resources to put into real organizing. We need to start working together and stop fighting ourselves. We do that by merging.
commented by Anonymous Derek, 2:22 PM PST  
gil also wishes background were all union, and would not work non-union.

perhaps gil mis-used the words "off the card." however, the reality is "non-union."

gil could work plenty of start up productions that are non-union. but he won't.

also, gil can't think of a reason to work towards unionizing broadcasters when his own two unions recently negotiated contracts that allowed for non-union work (the last internet contract).

more on the inequality of bringing in broadcasters.
commented by Blogger skippy, 5:17 PM PST  
Thanks, skippy.
commented by Blogger Batocchio, 7:24 PM PST  
WATCH the "Scott Bakula - No Merger" video:

"The current merger plan solves almost nothing
and adds too many inherent problems. Vote NO
and demand that our union leaders conduct
the necessary due diligence to create an agreement
which will not harm actors."

In Solidarity:
Scott Bakula, Ed Harris, Joe dAngerio, Elliott Gould,
Anne-Marie Johnson, David Jolliffe, Valerie Harper, Martin Sheen.

commented by Anonymous PLEASE VOTE NO, 2:51 PM PST  
Derek- if that is the case then explain to us why Robert Reardon said in the informational meeting that the reason they have failed to organize these broadcasters the employers off them higher pay to not organize and they accept. Clearly these broadcasters do not want to be organized if that is the case- they would much rather use the threat of that to extract higher pay from their employers.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 10:50 AM PDT  

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