Why I’m voting YES on the SAG-AFTRA Merger

I’ve thought carefully about the SAG-AFTRA merger and read arguments from both sides. Here are my thoughts as to why I’m voting YES. In my write-up, I’ve tried very hard to be truthful, understandable, and realistic. Feel free to forward this.

THE “I’M TOO BUSY TO READ IT ALL” SUMMARY

We have to change with the times and vote YES on the merger. Instead of two unions competing for the same jobs, we will have one union with much greater negotiating power. Some SAG health & retirement benefits may decrease but since your earnings won’t be split between two unions it will be significantly easier to qualify for them, which is a completely worthwhile trade-off.

If we don’t merge, I think SAG will lose even more jobs to AFTRA and could eventually be forced to cut benefits, raise dues, and undercut AFTRA’s rates, leading to a “price war” that we all lose.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF WE MERGE VS IF WE DON’T MERGE:

You want details? You got ‘em!

ISSUE

IF WE MERGE

IF WE DON’T MERGE

Negotiating Power All union TV, film, commercial, and web projects will be under only one union which would significantly increase our negotiating power. This is HUGE.

If you owned a store and the store next door sold the same merchandise, could you ever negotiate with your customers or raise your prices? Of course not, because your customers would just go next door. That’s what’s happening now with two separate unions.

SAG & AFTRA will continue to compete against each other for the same jobs with different rates, residual structures, & philosophies. The danger will persist that a desperate union could undercut the other union’s rates, which hurts everybody.
Qualifying For Health & Retirement Benefits Our earnings will go toward one union and eventually, one health insurance plan and one pension plan. This is huge. Not splitting our earnings between two unions will significantly increase our chances of qualifying for health insurance & pension credits. Our earnings will continue to be split between two unions. Currently, it’s possible for an actor to make $9500 in AFTRA earnings and $14,500 in SAG earnings and still not qualify for health insurance with either union. That sucks.
SAG Health Insurance I think SAG health insurance will indeed worsen, with higher premiums, co-pays, & deductibles. AFTRA’s health insurance is more costly than SAG’s; I hope the final product will be somewhere in between. It’s worth it to lose some benefits from top-of-the-line health insurance in exchange for a greater likelihood of getting that health insurance. SAG’s health insurance has already worsened in the last several years with continually higher earning thresholds & deductibles and decreased benefits. This trend will likely continue if we don’t merge.
Leadership Our leadership may make mistakes in implementing this merger Our leadership may make mistakes anyway, and they’ll do it while/because they’re competing against each other.
Union Dues Dues may increase or decrease depending on your situation. Honestly, dues are a minor factor compared to the other issues. Dues will remain as is.

MY RESPONSE TO THE ANTI-MERGER ARGUMENTS:
I’ve read a lot of the anti-merger arguments, some of them valid, and some of them not-so-much. Here are my thoughts:

1.             “There is no detailed plan for the merger/Pension & Health.”

The “No Detailed Plan” argument gets presented against any new measure in any field. Of course there’s no detailed plan–you don’t create the detailed plan until after the measure is passed. You determine if it’s possible/legal first, work out preliminary plans, and then after the measure is passed, you work out the details.

2.             “The merger plan isn’t good enough. Vote NO so that they will be forced to come up with a better plan.”

The “Vote NO To Get A Better Plan” argument also gets presented against any new measure in any field including, most recently, Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act. It’s a sneaky argument, because it gets people who want the measure to vote No because they think they can get something better. Well, just like Obamacare, this merger plan had to be constructed to be passed by both sides. And just like Obamacare, a flawed version that passes is still much better than an idealistic version that doesn’t pass. Sure, SAG people might vote for an alternate plan in which AFTRA was adopted as a subsidiary of SAG, but AFTRA people wouldn’t pass it.

3.             “Your SAG pension is not safe.”

I’m not sure exactly what will happen to our SAG pensions, but first, there are federal laws protecting pensions; second, I would hope that the people implementing this are not evil nor incompetent and will find a way to protect our pensions. Clearly, unions & companies have merged in the past without obliterating people’s pensions. I don’t see why a SAG-AFTRA merger should be any different.

4.            “Your SAG health insurance will get worse.”

It probably will, but it’s completely worth it to trade some benefits from SAG’s top-of-the-line health insurance for the increased likelihood of qualifying for it (due to no longer splitting earnings between two unions). Having Porsche-level health insurance is great, but we’ll be fine with Honda-level health insurance. The most important thing is to HAVE health insurance, and this merger will help.

5.            “Some of the biggest actors pushing merger are producers.”

Okay, this argument is so dumb I almost didn’t include it. Let’s face it: many actors (especially the big ones) are producers. Just because an actor wears multiple hats doesn’t mean that he’s secretly trying to crush the middle-class actor.

6.             “Merger will add thousands of new members to the union pool.”

Yep, unfortunately true, and it sucks. But at least the merger will end AFTRA’s anybody-with-a-check-can-join open enrollment policy. I am annoyed that AFTRA didn’t suspend its open enrollment policy during this period, but there’s nothing that can be done about this. It’s a negative that is still outweighed by the positives of the merger.

7.             “Senior Performers Health Plan Benefits Might Be Discontinued.”

I’ve never actually seen this presented as an anti-merger argument, but I think it’s a legitimate concern and a possible reason why many merger opponents are older actors. The SAG website says “Senior Performers Health Plan benefits are not vested benefits. They may be amended or discontinued at any time by action of the Board of Trustees.” Given the lack of governmental protection, I can understand why an older actor would be concerned about losing his hard-earned, non-guaranteed health benefits in the merger. But it’s also entirely plausible that if we don’t merge, SAG will weaken financially due to jobs lost to AFTRA and be forced to discontinue this benefit anyway.

8.             “SAG is the best actor’s union and we have to protect it from AFTRA.”

I hate to say this because I love SAG, but it’s losing against AFTRA, and if you can’t beat ‘em, you gotta join ‘em. For the last 4 years, 80% or more of all TV pilots have been AFTRA. If it wants, AFTRA can further move into former SAG territory like commercials & film by undercutting SAG’s rates. If commercials and film defect to AFTRA the way Primetime TV has, it could be a bleak scenario: we stop qualifying for SAG benefits; SAG loses a ton of money and is forced to cut benefits, raise dues, and undercut AFTRA’s rates; a vicious cycle ensues with both unions fighting for survival and undercutting each other; and everybody loses. I honestly believe the best way to save SAG is to merge.

CLOSING

I’m realistic—this merger isn’t going to be pretty, and it won’t solve everything. The execution will be flawed, frustrating, and slow; progress frequently is. But the time when SAG & AFTRA could peacefully divvy up respective portions of a large entertainment pie has passed. Merger is the best way to insure the long-term survival of the unions and the working class actor.

In Solidarity, Fight The Power, Rage Against The Machine, Norma Rae, Union Yes, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys, yadda yadda yadda,

Vic Chao

http://www.vicchao.com

http://www.imdb.me/vicchao

http://www.facebook.com/vicchao

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6 responses to this post.

  1. You got it all wrong.
    You fell for the lies being put out by the Producers hacks.

    Reply

    • I appreciate you reading the post and taking the time to comment. Can you please elaborate? What do you think are lies? What do you think is the truth? I genuinely would like to know

      Reply

  2. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I am linking to it!

    Reply

  3. Posted by Jack Shaw on March 8, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    Nice piece. I hope many members take a look.

    Reply

  4. Posted by sheena on March 14, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    i wish paul edney would reply.. hah

    Reply

    • Yeah–he’s been prolific on some Facebook merger forums. There’s a lot of opinion and conjecture but hardly any facts or actual analysis. So much for a discussion…

      Reply

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