Thursday, March 01, 2012
Why I'm Voting "No" on the SAG-AFTRA Merger Part 3
[ed. note: third in a series by actor/blogger Gil Christner]
There is yet another very big problem I have with the current proposal to merge SAG and AFTRA, the two national performers unions. Mainly, the actual, finalize merger proposal does absolutely nothing to address, let alone resolve, any of the problems the merger itself was touted as the only solution for.
The grand idea of all actors working under the same contract is, at this point in time (ie, while voting to merge) nothing more than that: a grand idea. NO outline, plan or study to address what that contract could be, or when it will take effect or how we will achieve it, is in existence. “One Contract” doesn’t even exist on paper. The Pro-Merger contingent seems to advise “Let’s merge into a brand new union, then we’ll figure out how to merge into a brand new union!”
In my opinion, there’s a more than excellent chance that Management would use the opportunity of a brand new union to insist on negotiating from scratch, and we would be in very real danger of facing rollbacks, if not outright loss of benefits and achievements.
One reason I think this? It’s known far and wide throughout television acting communities that today, for the lower tiered actor, (ie not top of show stars), an AFTRA contract, while paying a higher session fee (pay for the actual workdays of filming), nonetheless much fewer and smaller residuals than under a SAG contract.
I can foresee management insisting they pay the new “all inclusive union” not much more than they used to pay under AFTRA old contracts. I can foresee SAG residuals being the first Union Achievement to be on the chopping block.
Trust me, as someone who has made a very nice career out of residuals paid for repeat showings of my unique, hard work, I fear for the future generation of actors who will not be able to make a living at this.
And, going back to the Health and Pension Plans, there is NOTHING in the current proposal to address merging of the actual contributions.
One of the biggest talking points of the Pro-Merger contingent is that all too often an actor doesn’t make enough to qualify for insurance. Under both contracts, an actor must make a certain threshold of money in union-sanctioned employment to qualify for insurance converage. I have to make at least $10,000 in a year under AFTRA contracts to gain minimum coverage (for myself alone; dependents can be paid for in higher premiums).
Theoretically, said the Pro-Merger Union Officers, One Union would mean all paychecks go towards insurance qualification! Certainly, in theory; in theory, all men are brothers and peace shall rule the world.
However in reality, actors will still be working under separate SAG and AFTRA contracts after the merger. There is no apparatus even proposed to deal with the problem the merger is supposed to alleviate.
In my opinion, another actuarial report like the 2003 Mercer Report will be needed. Who knows how long that would take? Not that I am terribly concerned about how long an actuarial report would take; I welcome the idea of slowing down, studying and analyzing the merger. But it makes no sense to hurry up and merge because we want to make insurance easier for the members, then having to wait for months (if not years) while it’s being studied and discussed. In other words, this Merger proposal doesn’t do anything to resolve the problem of Health Insurance for its members.
Here’s one other complaint I have about the merger: Going back to Broadcasters in AFTRA who can work non-union with impunity, I am quite upset with the dues apparatus installed in the merger proposal. In it, Broadcasters who make above $100,000 annually will be charged at a rate of 0.274% of their earnings (capped at $250,000) for their yearly dues. Actors, however, will pay $1.575% on all their earnings (capped at $500,000). Smelly, to say the least, to this character actor.