Why I encourage SAG & AFTRA members to vote YES on this merger of the two unions.
February 24, 2012
My on-camera acting career took off in the late 90's when I started booking TV commercials. While I only knew a little about AFTRA or SAG, I saw them as powerful steps in my professional career. Soon, I was getting union auditions, and I worked my first AFTRA job in late 2002. I joined in early 2003, right before the last proposed merger with SAG. "Great," I thought, "my timing is perfect to work with both unions!"
That merger attempt fell just short of the needed votes. I ended up joining SAG in 2005 thanks to more commercial work.
In the years since, I've watched my two unions jointly negotiate contracts, and I've seen them take different approaches to the same kinds of jobs. I've also heard and read things like "that union isn't on the side of actors" or "that union isn't doing enough for me," which is all par for the course with actors. We're a big group with plenty of opinions.
But I've also seen the entertainment industry change since 2003. Reality TV shows have expanded and sometimes surpassed scripted shows in number and popularity, leaving fewer jobs for professional actors. Several A-list stars now take TV roles, commercials and voiceover jobs when they had mostly been doing feature films because major studios have cut back and consolidated productions. I've seen local jobs vanish as more and more industrials are happening without union contracts. And I've seen AFTRA and SAG try to keep up with new forms of digital content just as fast as production studios and networks figure out how to monetize them.
What hasn't changed is the need for protection, decent wages, negotiated benefits, and more jobs. I want SAG and AFTRA to merge because I want a united effort to face all that. And especially to find, organize and maintain ongoing union work for all actors.
I am inspired by the efforts of leaders at the Chicago SAG branch, including Todd Hissong, Ilyssa Fradin, and SAG Organizing Committee Chair Grace McPhillips. I thank them because they are among the many who want us to have more opportunities and achieve sustainable careers in our industry. Working with the Chicago office staff, these union leaders and other volunteers are meeting with production companies, advertising and marketing agencies, film schools, and businesses with decision makers who can hire union actors. Their goal isn't one-sided for SAG; it's to make sure every union actor has great opportunities.
The AFTRA and SAG Chicago branches offer a positive example of how we can all get along, regardless of which union we first joined. Based on this Chicago model, I want to see my unions merge nationally to help every member everywhere.
It's time we strengthen our ability to negotiate better deals. There's only one Writers Guild and one Directors Guild, so it makes sense to have one union for all actors in electronic media. We share the common goals of work and artistry. We all want the freedom to play. We might spend a lot of time finding the chance to play, but it sure helps when we are all looking out for each other.
It's time we share responsibility for creating each others' best opportunities. As businesses large and small turn away from union workers, we need to demonstrate the value we bring to everything we do. We need to show them we are a team that stands united for bringing the work to us, instead of just accepting what comes our way. And whether we are expanding ties with existing union signatories, or flipping nonunion jobs, or encouraging new producers and businesses to sign union contracts, these opportunities are ours for the making.
It's time we work together and clear away artificial barriers. As an actor, I refuse to look down on someone who was only in SAG or AFTRA, or who might work in areas of performance other than acting. Because looking down creates a false division that doesn't have to exist. I don't need fake drama in my daily life, even though I may be lucky enough to play dramatic roles. And for anyone who feels they "need to be superior to others" or they "need to have an enemy," I will say to them, "I'm focused on tackling real issues and solving real problems. And you're welcome to join me."
It's time we unite. It's time we show leadership by showing support. Join me and vote YES on the SAG-AFTRA merger.
SAG & AFTRA Member
PS You can find all the
merger documents at www.SAGAFTRA.org.
That's where I read them, and that's how I made my decision.