Rethinking the SAG-AFTRA merger proposal – deck chairs on the Titanic?

Over the past few months I have been following closely the proposed merger between the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA. The logic behind merger, at least in the form proposed now, escapes me. While the pro-merger propaganda package stresses in a colorful format the potential to improve the lives of actors through greater leverage with their employers, there is almost no specific detail on how that will be achieved. For nearly three decades the two unions have worked side by side to produce contracts that are largely identical, according to pro-merger advocates, but nonetheless they argue that without merger now the two unions will end up undercutting each other. Of course, the only real evidence for this is the arguably pro-producer approach to contract flexibility offered by AFTRA to cable producers. That problem is not eliminated by merger – it will only be fought out in house if a merger is accomplished. Given the very visible nature of conflicts in the Hollywood unions it is unclear why that is an improvement over the current situation.

The other major argument for merger is that it will allow for consolidation of the pension and health care plans of the two unions. But that remains a goal not an accomplishment of the merger. The plans are legally separate entities run by a joint board of management and union trustees. The AFTRA plan board even went so far as to issue a statement denying that they had considered the merger issue at this point despite what the pro-merger propaganda package said.

What the merger plan really adds up to is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The industry is being rocked below the water line by the iceberg of new media, social networking and mobile communications. The recent brutal defeat by Silicon Valley of much needed anti-piracy rules only indicated the power of the new technology, which helped the opponents of the law overcome the film industry’s old boy lobbying effort. The industry, including its unions, languishes in the past. (I am certain I wasn’t the only one who noticed the tired and dated quality of the Oscars last night. Meryl Streep, Billy Crystal and a black and white silent movie? Really?)

Thus, the leaders of SAG and AFTRA seem to have fallen for the same kind of “circle the wagons” defensive mentality that sadly plagues the rest of American organized labor. The new leadership of the AFL-CIO under Richard Trumka has failed noticeably to take advantage of the widespread discontent among American workers over the financial crisis and continued erosion of good high paying stable jobs. Thus, many unions are being merged out of existence as labor cuts back despite new opportunities for organizing.

In this post I am providing a set of links all in one place to the various posts I have done analyzing these issues. As the ballots for merger go out to both SAG and AFTRA members it may help to rethink the attempt to push this reorganization of their unions by the current leadership.

As these posts indicate, Hollywood labor needs a strategy – but merger is not a strategy it is an excuse.

1. SAG Moves to Delaware, but why?

2. Mercer contra merger

3. Tearing up the SAG card

4. Surprise, surprise – SAG sued

5. Reardon pitches actors on crossing picket lines

6. Leverage? What’s that?

7. Pirates hit Hollywood

8. Merger myths

9. Merger undermines union democracy

10. Solidarity loser in merger?

11. Merger and piracy

12. Hollywood shocked in piracy defeat

13. SAG pension plan in crisis

14. DVD collapse exposes labor weakness

15. Hollywood Guilds’ “Annus Horribilis”

16. Negotiations season ends, clean sweep for Producers