The promised benefits of merger seem to be eluding the now combined membership of SAG and AFTRA, the two major actor unions in Hollywood. Even Jonathan Handel of The Hollywood Reporter, who is close to the current union leadership, was forced to acknowledge the “internal tension” affecting the union. The simmering conflicts are reportedly affecting both staff and the elected leadership.
One oddity reported by Handel but not examined is that the new union, which on paper has 160,000 members many of whom are not regularly working as actors, has 550 staff members! So much for the promise of a streamlined and efficient new union as a result of merger.
Handel’s reporting of the “tensions” is not specific and it does not get in the way of Handel’s opining that “one actors’ union is much more harmonious than two.” No evidence of this harmony is provided other than PR statements from union leaders who promise that success will take “decades” to measure. That mindset is not likely to win applause among actors. As Keynes put it, in the long run we are all dead.
More importantly, the much hoped for merger of union benefits plans has not moved anywhere near completion, apparently. “The divided system deprives too many actors of health and pension benefits because their credits are split,” Handel writes. Of course, it was the promise of merging the plans that gave union leaders the votes they needed to win the merger vote in the first place.
SAG-AFTRA Executive Director David White told Handel the main accomplishment of the merger “was to shift the very landscape of opportunity.” No one knows what that is supposed to mean but it apparently means little when it comes to actors’ paychecks.
Even Handel, a long time friend of White, seems sceptical and says he’ll “check back in a year and see what that landscape looks like.”
In the meantime, internal tensions may lead to electoral battles this fall for control of the new union entity. Elections and a convention are planned for September.