The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Screen Actors Guild took a step toward merging when AFTRA's board of directors met today by videoconference in Los Angeles and New York.
The AFTRA board appointed a committee to work with SAG on merging the two unions. The new successor union will represents professional performers, broadcasters, and sound recording artists.
AFTRA's New Union Committee and SAG's Merger Task Force will work together to develop a merger agreement, constitution and dues structure for the new union, to be presented to the AFTRA board by January 2012.
The New Union Committee, chaired by AFTRA President Roberta Reardon, consists of 29 members (13 committee members and 16 alternates) who represent each major category of AFTRA's membership.
The Successor Union Mission Statement highlights the importance of AFTRA and SAG, noting that they "were formed in the turmoil of the 1930s, with histories of fighting for and securing the strongest protections for media artists. Our members united in order to preserve those hard-won rights and to continue the struggle to extend and expand those protections into the 21st century and beyond.
"Our work is seen and heard in theaters, on television and radio, sound recordings, the internet, games, mobile devices, home video: you see us and hear us on all media distribution platforms. We are the faces and the voices that entertain and inform America and the world."
Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, AFTRA's national executive director, said, "AFTRA members are uniquely poised to coordinate their considerable experience across a wide range of industries among common employers to ensure that as their work evolves, it evolves under a union contract. Our success in these upcoming negotiations is especially critical in light of the fact that these agreements will carry forward into the new, successor union and must be strengthened to provide continued quality work opportunities to future generations of union members."
Actors unions have faced many new obstacles during recent years.
Only one of these has been the harm done to professional actors by the growing trend of reality TV shows, for example.
Many union actors see reality TV as glorifying a number of untalented actors who choose not to move on to things such as feature film production, and who often choose not to get involved with the union. In fact, nearly all reality TV is non-union.
The shows are, for that reason, cheaper to make and attract more uninsured, exploitable, and disposable workers. This whole reality TV genre contributes nothing to what AFTRA and SAG are fighting for, and poses at least one reason why Reardon is looking, through the merger, to strengthen both AFTRA and SAG.
She is concerned about the big political picture too. "In recent times," said Reardon, "We have witnessed an unprecedented attack on public workers in this country. Today, they are coming after school teachers, cops and nurses - but tomorrow they will come after us. These attacks offer yet another compelling reason why we must unite our two unions so that we grow as one and we grow stronger to build real power for our members."
Reardon continued by explaining what she said AFTRA has known since 1937: "Entertainment and news media professionals are stronger standing together and, overwhelmingly, AFTRA members want one new union. I look forward to moving this process forward into the next stage where we will now work with our sisters and brothers at Screen Actors Guild to build a new union for a new world."