999 The “Merger”
“Merger” is in quotes because in the real world, there’s no such thing. One entity takes over another. The closest we’ve ever come was the “merger” of Chase Bank into Chemical. Chemical took over but more gently than most and then changed its name to Chase because it was better known in more places.
The “Merger” of Chrysler with Daimler and then with Fiat, the “Merger” of the United Church of Christ and The Methodist Church, the “Merger” of the Long Island Jewish-Hillside and North Shore Health systems were all takeovers.
And so is the “Merger” of the two largest and most powerful performing unions, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Screen Actors Guild.
And even though they’re both unions with long histories and similar goals and many duplicate members, they are two different cultures and those differences spell trouble for members, staff and employers alike.
More than 30 years ago, your correspondent sat on the original exploratory committee and soon thereafter switched sides from “aye” to “nay.”
Now, all these years later, the “ayes” have it. But don’t call it a “Merger.” SAG has acquired AFTRA. Oh, sure, joint presidents and a joint board of directors - for now.
Both unions are dominated by actors. But in the case AFTRA, the radio and television staff people are the backbone and the only steady source of the union’s income. Both unions have said their unemployment rates are in the neighborhood of 95% at any given moment.
So, it’s relying on the low pay grunts to fund the thing and then parade the big names in public when it’s contract time.
Does SAG care about the “radio” part of AFTRA? Likely they’ll say “of course” if asked. But radio is on the ropes again and so is the union, though its independent health and retirement fund recently reported itself to be in decent shape.
Does AFTRA care about Hollywood? That’s hard to tell, but a leading indicator is the recent move of its national headquarters from New York to Los Angeles, the kind of time, effort, energy and financial waste that has come to typify it.
The new entity will be called SAG-AFTRA. That shows you who wears the pants.
These things tend not to work well and never work instantly. Cliques and factions exist within both groups and will multiply exponentially.
Influence over industry -- a major selling point of the “Merger” will remain unchanged. These unions, like most others have given up or been driven to give up their one and only real weapon, the effective strike.
This is a sad day for performers and a sad day for organized labor.
--Keith Olbermann may be a pain to work with but he’s effective. So his recent firing by Al Gore’s “Current” TV network does not help people of the Keith persuasion to understand the world of events through a liberal lens. And the guy has made himself persona non grata in so many TV companies he’s unlikely to land anywhere else unless he starts one himself.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2012
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