This year members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) voted to merge into one union, known as SAG-AFTRA.
For this week’s guest blog post, Dena Beatty answers questions from Washington Filmworks about the effects of the merger on area talent and producers. As the Screen Actors Guild Executive Director for the Pacific Northwest Branches, Dena helps facilitate SAG contracts and performer related issues in the region. She also serves as the talent expert on advisory committees for the top industry associations in both Washington and Oregon, where her expertise has been sought out by industry leaders throughout the region. Dena has written articles on performer issues for various northwest publications and was the subject of a Media Inc. article focused on Oregon and Washington performers.
Will the merger result in a larger pool of union actors in the area?
We anticipate this will result in a larger pool of union actors for the Pacific Northwest and SAG-AFTRA nationally. Having two organizations representing much of the same work has become increasingly confusing for everyone in the entertainment and commercial industries, including union and pre-union performers. The merger of SAG and AFTRA has enabled performers to speak with one voice about their shared interests This also allows all actors to work within our industries as one entity rather than two. That creates strength for actors and consistency for our stakeholders. The comprehensive focus of our combined team can only improve the strength of the industries in which we work. Over time, we expect this to result in an increase of professional work opportunities for performers and everyone within the industry. The increase in work opportunities will create the need for more professional performers and will create such a strong benefit for member performers that SAG-AFTRA will see larger membership numbers than SAG and AFTRA could have realized prior to merger.
Do you envision more local actors joining the union to get work, especially those who may not have been interested in the past?
Yes! SAG-AFTRA will increase work opportunities for performers, resulting in better work for better pay for more performers. The merger of SAG and AFTRA has also resulted in a single initiation fee — which in Washington is $1,025 — greatly discounted from the national rate of $3,000. Having a single dues bill for actors will result in performers paying less than what they would have paid to SAG and AFTRA if they were members of both. Also, while often an afterthought, SAG and AFTRA have always negotiated various member benefits such as deep discounts with vendors who offer products and services that benefit our members. A larger single organization will have more bargaining power to offer even better benefits for members than SAG and AFTRA could separately.
Will it make the contract process easier from the actor’s end?
Yes, performers won’t have to guess which union’s contract they are working under. In many instances SAG and AFTRA had separate contracts covering the same work. Now that SAG and AFTRA have merged into SAG-AFTRA the merged Union can being the process of replacing the duplicate contracts with a single contract. The process of creating a single contract will take place at the negotiation table with our employers as contracts come up for renegotiation. As this occurs, performers will have one call to make and one set of contracts to refer to, with everything available on one website. All the paperwork will soon say SAG-AFTRA, so there won’t be the mistake of accidentally completing the incorrect union’s forms.
How about for producers?
The answer is exactly the same for producers. With one union for performers, producers also benefit from the one-stop shop. No guesswork and, regardless of which SAG-AFTRA office they send their paperwork to, it will always wind up with the correct union, as there is only one — SAG-AFTRA.
Will the merger result in more competition or more opportunity?
In my opinion: both. With only one performers’ union, employers and performers will spend less time trying to figure out which union they need to speak with to have their needs met. It will also eventually result in one contract for each kind of motion picture product and one set of paperwork. This will allow employers to spend less time sorting out what to do for each performers’ union, allowing them to focus on the business of production and getting their product to market, resulting in more time and money to create more products. This creates more opportunity and competition. More products on the market create more competition. It will be the same for performers. With more jobs, there will be more opportunities for performers to work as professionals. This will result in more professional performers, resulting in more competition. As has always been the case, it will be important for all industry members, including performers, to keep their skills sharp and keep up to date with new trends and technology. More opportunity will never eliminate competition, but I think anyone will agree that competition resulting from more work is wanted and welcome!
What about SAG cards, etc.?
Those of you with a SAG or AFTRA card: Hang on to it — it’s a collector’s item! We will never see another SAG or AFTRA card printed. Also, hang onto your SAG-AFTRA One Union card; the new SAG-AFTRA logo is coming and the cards with the transitional logo will be even more special, as there will be a maximum of two billing cycles of these cards printed!
What will the new [joining] process be?
SAG-AFTRA has adopted the former SAG policy. Readers can view the policy at this link: http://www.sagaftra.org/join
From the producer’s perspective, what are the benefits and challenges of bringing production to the Northwest?
The benefits and challenges will remain the same.
What I can say is SAG-AFTRA will be standing beside our local production community in the same way SAG and AFTRA always have. SAG-AFTRA will continue to partner with our industry stakeholders to help keep Washington as competitive as we can, regardless of what that looks like in the future. I anticipate that SAG-AFTRA will be even more beneficial to our industries here, nationwide and around the world as we are thousands strong, speaking with one voice. SAG-AFTRA is only strong when our industries are strong, as we rely on our industries to provide us our livelihood. We will fight to keep them strong!