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SAG-AFTRA: A Better Future for All

February 5, 2012

 

Now that the boards of SAG and AFTRA have approved the merger agreement, the future of our unions is in our — the members — hands.

I was an alternate on the G-1, the group for one union that crafted the merger agreement, the constitution and the governance and dues structures.

Think of the G-1 as the inner circle that actually voted. The alternates sat in the outer ring, but were members of the various working groups. Many of us ended up at the G-1 table, especially at the end of the 9-day meeting in Los Angeles early in the morning of January 16th.

Since then many people have asked if voting yes will guarantee them more work, better wages and improved working conditions.

As you may know I am a reporter. Those questions about guarantees reminded me of a story I recently wrote in New Orleans about what happened to some homeowners after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

I had met Kisa Holmes, who had bought her home 6 weeks before Katrina and never made her first mortgage payment before she, her husband and five children were flooded out (http://thelensnola.org/2011/12/23/kisa-holmes-six-years-later/). Her bank convinced her to use her insurance money to pay off the mortgage. Bureaucratic red tape prevented her from ever getting her house fixed and the family has basically been homeless since.

The house was demolished right before Christmas. (http://thelensnola.tumblr.com/post/15529292127/update-frustrated-homeowner-resorts-to-demolition)

Holmes had fought so many battles trying to get back home that she was reluctant to recount the emotional pain of the previous six years.

I told her I could not guarantee that telling her story would help but I could guarantee NOTHING would change if she did not allow me to explain what happened. Telling her story would at least give her a chance at changing her circumstances.

In the end the story was published and the founder of the St. Bernard Project (http://www.stbernardproject.org/), a non-profit organization that repairs hurricane-damaged homes, read it.  The project is now working with Kisa Holmes to either build a new house or move her into another house that the organization has repaired.

The same can be said for members of SAG and AFTRA only this is a lot better than taking a chance.

In 2003 we were told that the industry would continue to consolidate and it would be tougher for actors, broadcasters, singers, dancers and recording artists to achieve fair contracts.

Does anyone working today care to dispute that?

Together we can use our collective might and talents to make it easier to make a living.

One union of 150,000 members could negotiate better health plan rates than two separate organizations.

Voting yes gives us makes it easier to get more work, better wages and improved working conditions.

Voting no guarantees that things will remain the same: producers will try and play one union off against the other and many actors will continue to struggle to qualify for health benefits and pension credits. 

 

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Bob Butler is a reporter at KCBS radio in San Francisco, a freelance investigative reporter, a vice president on the AFTRA national board and AFTRA’s national EEO committee chair.

 

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