Screen Actors Guild narrowly rejects proposed merger with AFTRA

Wednesday, July 2nd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A plan to consolidate the nation's two actors unions was defeated by the slimmest of margins, winning a majority from both movie and television actors but failing to get enough votes from the Screen Actors Guild.

Sixty-percent approval was required from members of both unions.

SAG members voted 57.8 in favor of supporting consolidation, derailing the effort for the second time in five years. Members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists voted 75.9 percent in favor of the plan.

``I am somewhat stunned at the fact that this did not pass by 2 percent,'' said a stone-faced SAG President Melissa Gilbert as she announced the results.

Gilbert had campaigned fiercely for the proposal, and said she was not surprised that members had supported it overall.

Many of the same concerns voiced by SAG members during a previous failed attempt to merge the unions in 1999 were brought up this time.

They said the new union _ which would have been called the Alliance of International Media Artists _ would raise dues on SAG members, dilute the unions' strength and end the autonomy of SAG, which has been led by notables like Ronald Reagan and Charlton Heston.

``We are so relieved. We have saved our union,'' said Peggy Miley, a member of both unions who voted against the merger.

Leaders from both unions campaigned vigorously for the consolidation, but SAG opponents put up a strong fight.

Both sides announcing the support of high-profile actors.

Those supporting the consolidation included Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon and Martin Sheen. Opponents included Rob Schneider, current SAG recording secretary Elliott Gould, former SAG President Edward Asner, and Valerie Harper, who lost an election for the presidency to Gilbert.

Of the 107,817 ballots mailed to SAG members, 58,192 were returned; the vote was 33,626 in favor and 24,550 against. Of 36,310 AFTRA voters who cast ballots, 27,553 were in favor.

Proponents argued that consolidation had become necessary as huge media conglomerates _ often owned by foreign companies _ grew more powerful and began to exercise greater control over acting jobs.

Media consolidation has led to drastic cost cuts as companies scramble to reduce debt and justify their mergers. AOL Time Warner, Vivendi Universal and other giants have cut thousands of jobs over the past few years, and producers are expected to be especially cost-conscious when the current pacts with actors expire.