Members of nation's two biggest actors unions to vote on merger approved by leaders

Tuesday, April 15th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The leaders of the nation's two largest actors unions are asking their members to approve a merger they say would give them the clout needed to negotiate with major entertainment conglomerates and keep jobs in the United States.

The boards of both the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists voted overwhelmingly to send the issue to rank-and-file members, leaders of both organizations said Monday.

Ballots will be mailed to members in early June, with results expected later that month. At least 60 percent of the members of each organization must vote in favor to approve the merger.

SAG President Melissa Gilbert said she is confident the merger, approved by 87 percent of SAG's board and 89 percent of AFTRA's, will win rank-and-file approval once union leaders explain the benefits.

``What we really need to do is simply to educate. We need to make people aware of what this plan is,'' Gilbert said. ``I think once that's done ... it will be an easy sell.''

A merged organization would represent three separate affiliates, which would oversee the interests of actors, broadcasters and recording artists, and be called the Alliance of International Media Artists.

AFTRA President John Connolly said the merger would give the guilds strength to combat so-called runaway production in which foreign cities such as Toronto and Montreal serve as film sites in place of cities like Los Angeles and New York to save on expenses.

He also said actors need to form a united front in an era when the merger of firms like America Online and Time Warner and the creation of the giant entertainment conglomerate Vivendi Universal have concentrated industry power in fewer hands.

``With the fundamental changes in the ownership structure of the media ... it is no longer optional for professional performers to unite,'' Connolly said.

The two unions already share many members. AFTRA has 80,000 and SAG has 100,000, but 44,000 people belong to both organizations.

AFTRA generally represents recording artists, TV and radio broadcasters, and performers in daytime TV, game and reality shows. SAG generally represents actors in films, commercials and prime-time TV shows.