Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A New Union for a New World

Note: Protecting Nevada during the potential transition into a new union will take the contacts, good will, working relationships, history and proven dedication that helped bring a boots on the ground SAG Executive to the state, expand our background zone and set the groundwork for film incentives. Please reelect Art Lynch to a new term on the SAG National Board of Directors.

An Open Letter to AFTRA Members 
(published in the Spring, 2010 AFTRA National Newsletter)

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the
possibility of a “merger” between AFTRA
and SAG. We take this as an encouraging
sign: a reflection of the improving relations
between our unions. AFTRA leadership
and members have always been, and
continue to be, committed to creating
one media and entertainment union for
all actors, performers and broadcast
journalists. We stand ready to work hard to
make that happen in the near future. But
make no mistake, we will not repeat the
past. We believe that any effort to create a
new and stronger national union must not
only be successful, but also lead to a more
powerful, better functioning union than any
existing models today.

It’s important to remember that creating
any kind of “merged” union is not a goal, it
is a means to a goal.

Like members of any union in any industry,
AFTRA members want more jobs and
better jobs. This means the union’s core
missions must be organizing more union
work and raising the wages and working
conditions in our contracts. No union can be
successful at one without being successful at the

Consider the reality in which
we work: few of our major employers are
in only one business or produce only
one form of content; few of our members
forge an entire career doing only one
kind of work in only one medium; and our
work increasingly takes us beyond the
geographic boundaries of Hollywood and
New York City.

Our union’s first priority is to negotiate
strong contracts for all its members
throughout the nation. Second, in order
to effectively enhance its power at the
bargaining table, our union must reflect the
current realities of the industries in which
we work, as well as the nature of the work
we do. This means research, preparation
and, most important, organizing.

Ultimately, we want to build an
encompassing union that keeps us all
working under strong contracts, and also
empowers its entire membership.

Some see “merger” mainly as a way
to solve the very real problems posed
by paying dues to multiple unions,
contributing to multiple health and
retirement plans and wasting resources
on redundant administrative processes.

As longtime working members of multiple
unions, we also yearn for the streamlined
efficiencies that would make each of our
individual professional lives easier to
manage and less costly. But as welcome
as these benefits may be, they are not
the reason to create a new organization.

We should do it for one reason and one
reason only: to build power.

While we should always be sensitive to
the realities of production budgets and
the economics of the various intertwined
sectors of the media industry, we must
also ensure we are in a position to prevent
employers from degrading our hard-won
wages and working conditions by shifting
production away from organized markets
or shifting modes of production away from
union workers.

If a union only represents one small piece
of a large conglomerate’s operations
and revenue centers—be it only scripted
programming or only recorded music or
only local broadcasting—workers will have
much less leverage at the negotiating
table. Unless we cover as wide a swath of
the media landscape as our employers do,
they will always have the upper hand.

Above all, the new union must reflect
the nature of our world today. It is time
to stop using the catchphrase “merger,”
which carries baggage and assumptions
from past efforts and failures that are no
longer relevant. This isn’t 1960, 1998 or
2003. Ours is a world of ringtones and iPads.
It’s a world in which alternative news
and lifestyle programming is cropping up on
D2 subsignals and the Internet, while traditional
networks shutter their news bureaus
across the country. It’s a world in which,
come September, there will only be one
soap opera left in New York City that
provides sustained acting work. It’s a world
in which “onscreen” no longer means just
television or movie theaters but virtually
anything, anywhere with a flat surface. We
live in a world where the old approaches
to “merger” no longer make sense, and it’s
time to speak of building a new union for
the future.

We assure you, what’s happening
today at ABC News isn’t going to stop
there. The significant challenges facing
our broadcast journalist members
are going to march right down the
corporate hallway to confront actors
working in entertainment. Whether it
be salary reductions and added work
responsibilities facing broadcasters,
declining quotes and reduced work
opportunities for actors or record labels’
imposition of “360 deals” on recording
artists, anyone who thinks that we don’t
all share the same basic core concerns
and interests doesn’t understand what
21st century media is all about. AFTRA
members learned this lesson more than
10 years ago when our recording artist
members faced the “new” model of digital
distribution of music: the Napster and
iTunes phenomena. In short order, the
issues we began confronting in sound
recordings in the late 1990s migrated to
scripted entertainment programming in
film and television. This is the way our
world works, and a union that ignores
these realities is in peril.

What does this mean for us as union
members? Among other things, it
means that we must engage in a
national strategy under which all Locals,
Branches, Chapters, Divisions and
members function in concert to maintain
jurisdiction over our work no matter
how it moves or grows, no matter what
form it takes.

It also means building a structure
where no single city or no
single category of member—actor,
recording artist or broadcaster—is
able to unilaterally impose its will on
everyone else. Any new union must
incorporate the best of each contributing
organization and avoid adopting our
respective dysfunctions.

For nearly two decades now, many of
us have worked hard to see our unions
combine to create a new national union;
it’s why many of us became union
activists in the first place. But one thing
we’ve learned over the years is that this
effort requires careful thought. Why did
our efforts to “merge” fail in the past?

It wasn’t because AFTRA leadership
and rank-andfile members didn’t support
the concept— in fact, we overwhelmingly
voted for it twice.

“Merger” failed because both unions
put it to a vote without first addressing a
number of critical questions about our mission
and strategy and because we allowed
secondary micro-issues to distract us
from the primary macro-goal of
building union members’ long-term
collective power.

We will not let history repeat itself. We
cannot commit hundreds of thousands
of your dues dollars along with the
limited time and resources of the
AFTRA staff—to say nothing of the
countless hours contributed by your
all-volunteer leadership team—unless
the unions’ leaders share a clear mutual
understanding of precisely what we
are trying to achieve. Do we share a
view of the core mission and goals of a
new union? How must it be structured
in order to succeed? We must get it
right because our members cannot afford for
us to fail. The third time must be the charm.
Workers’ power, not politics, must drive our work.

We all have much to learn about and
contribute to the new landscape. We have
a series of major contract negotiations
coming up this year and next. In 2010,
we will be negotiating new agreements
for Network Staff Newspersons, Sound
Recordings, Network Code and Exhibit
A. In 2011, we have Non-Broadcast/
Industrials and the Interactive Media
Agreement. These are important contract
negotiations likely to have a major
long-term impact on our professional
lives. The wages and working conditions
meetings that precede these talks will
provide members with a real opportunity
to educate each other and help shape
the world we will all be working in. This
is a tremendous opportunity, and we
encourage everyone to participate in it.

It’s now a little more than a year since
AFTRA and SAG jointly bargained our
Commercials contracts together under the
AFL-CIO-facilitated “no raiding” protocol. In
the last three months, we have taken steps
to jointly bargain the Exhibit A (Primetime
Television) contract together with SAG,
also under the protocol. This is all good
news, for it reflects a new spirit of respect
and cooperation between our two unions.
We shouldn’t minimize its importance, nor
should we exaggerate it. Like “merger,” joint
bargaining is not an end in itself; rather,
it is a means to an end. This is a time for
hope that our unions will continue to work
together respectfully and productively, as
we figure out the “nuts and bolts” of sitting
together at the bargaining table, as well
as the principles of partnership that must
underlie our joint efforts.

Our unions should continue to work
together in the joint negotiations,
committee work, legislative public policy
initiatives and other activities. Through
shared research, we should study our
industries together to identify trends,
employment patterns and potential areas
of union growth. Together, we should work
to anticipate how our industries will evolve
(or, in some cases, stay the same). If we
do all this, when the time is right to sit
down to form our new union, we will be
prepared and aligned in our priorities.

Everything we do as union members
should be about building power to improve
wages and working conditions. That is why
AFTRA members are already engaged in
an historic program of internal change; we
will not stop our forward evolution while
the world changes around us. AFTRA
members will continue to move forward
with our internal organizing program
through which we are working
to transform our old 20th century service
model into a 21st-century organizing
model and will expand members’ collective power as
the employers for whom we all work
consolidate, shift and evolve.

Union power starts with organizing,
continues with strong bargaining and, when
the timing is right, it includes exploring
the creation of a new national union that
serves those missions. It culminates in a
working world that is all union, all the time,
for all media professionals all around the
country—in large and small markets alike.

This is our vision and this is our goal. 

In solidarity,
Roberta Reardon
National President

Bob Edwards
National First Vice President

Ron Morgan
National Second Vice President

Matthew Kimbrough
National Treasurer

Lainie Cooke
National Recording Secretary

Ron Morgan, National
Second Vice President

Matt Kimbrough,
National Treasurer

Lainie Cooke, National
Recording Secretary

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