SAG critics of merger with AFTRA appear to have been right about their concern that the merger deal being negotiated now behind closed doors by union leaders and staff would undermine longstanding SAG work rules.
Jonathan Handel at The Hollywood Reporter is reporting today that “Global Rule 1” will not be extended to the hundreds of AFTRA members who work in non-union shops like CNBC and CNN. Historically, SAG has insisted that its members not work in non-union shops but AFTRA, which SAG critics say is a weaker union, have never enforced that kind of across the board principle. To avoid appearing as if they are simply a labor association and not a real union, AFTRA calls such non-union work places “non jurisdictional.”
Of course, this is just semantics. AFTRA engages in this game to avoid violating its own “Rule One No Contract/No Work” concept which blocks union members from working for employers where AFTRA has “jurisdiction.”
AFTRA actually failed in a ten year effort to organize CNBC, for example, as Handel mentions. So clearly AFTRA considers CNBC part of its jurisdiction, as it should. But AFTRA members who continue to work there face no penalty and can freely accept either union or non-union work.
So AFTRA has not been able to organize important parts of the media industry and at the same time it has been unable or unwilling to require that its members avoid working in scab shops.
In stark contrast, SAG has often been aggressive in enforcing union solidarity. Perhaps the most visible example was the imposition of penalties on celebrities like Tiger Woods who crossed union picket lines during the 2000 commercials strike. It should be noted, however, that SAG’s rule applies to principal actors but apparently does not extend to background actors, a large group of the Guild’s membership that were absorbed into SAG when it took over the ailing Screen Extras Guild years ago.
Since it has already been widely reported that the SAG and AFTRA pension and health care plans will continue to operate independently after merger, and now a key SAG solidarity principle will not be extended to AFTRA, it looks as if the strategy behind this merger is to actually do as little merging as possible in order to insure passage. That may also explain the rumoured lame proposed name for the new organization: “SAG-AFTRA.”