Follow the money….

To outsiders the recent dustups between SAG and AFTRA did not make much sense. Why would the two unions who are as entwined together as Siamese Twins engage in such destructive battles on the eve of negotiations?  [SAG and AFTRA share 40,000 members and until this year had for 25 years jointly bargained the Film/TV contracts currently being renegotiated.]

Well a recent budget report coming out of SAG – described here on – suggests a possible answer.  SAG has swung dramatically in a very short period of time from a fairly comfortable surplus of 12 million dollars at the end of fiscal year 07 to a projected deficit of 6.5 million at the end of f.y. 08.  
A look at the most recent annual report provided to the Department of Labor by the Guild on Form LM-2 shows the source of the surplus figure.  Statement B-Receipts and Disbursements indicates that as of April 30, 2007, the Guild had brought in that year total receipts of $119 mn and disbursed $107 mn for a surplus (or net income) of $12 mn.  On the income side, 50 mn came from dues that year while another 51 million was producer deposits that presumably were passed back to members on the disbursement side as residual payments.  On that disbursement side there was 56 million in “representational activities” (which presumably includes the residuals payouts), 27 million for general overhead and about 8 mn for both union administration and benefits.  Leaving out the producer deposit/residual pass through payments, the 6.5 mn loss must be linked to a decline in dues or an increase in expenses (on that part of representational activities that is not connected to residuals), overhead or admin/benefits.
Interestingly, the downward trend seems to have been underway for awhile.  SAG had a surplus of 21 million at the end of April 2006.  So there was a 9 mn decline in the surplus from April 06 to April 07 but the decline doubled to 18 mn this last year.
Of course, that 6.5 mn loss is only a projection and the final numbers could be different.   But that is an $18 mn dollar swing deep in to the red in a short period of time.  The loss of work during the WGA walkout could be part of the problem but a more likely suggestion is the loss of jobs to AFTRA, Canada or CGI.  That could go a long way to explaining the more hyperbolic rhetoric coming out of the Membership First camp in recent months about AFTRA.  

And you thought it was about politics?