In my other life, the one I live when I am not here, I am a member of three unions, Screen Actor's Guild , AFTRA and Actor's Equity Association. I have been in SAG and AEA for almost thirty years. I was finally forced to join AFTRA two years ago. I had resisted AFTRA for a number of reasons, the primary one being that I thought it was silly to have three unions for one job. For those of you that do not know the difference here it is. If you act or perform on stage, you belong to Actor's Equity. If you act or perform and it is recorded on film you must join SAG. If you act or perform and it is recorded on video tape or is live, you must join AFTRA. A foolish concept to begin with but it has been in place for almost a century.
Unions have their place. When a situation arises that people are making twenty-five cents an hour and dying of black lung disease something must be done. In the early stages of the film and television industry certain advantages were taken by the producing entities and thus the unions were formed to help protect the performers. Why it was determined that we needed three unions for the same job however, is beyond me. It is like working for General Motors and being in one union if you work on Chevys and another is you work on Pontiacs. In no other industry will you find a number of different unions representing people who do the same job.
Several years ago a proposal was put forth that the two TV and film unions, SAG and AFTRA, merge. It caused a heated debate and the union management's inability or unwillingness to adequately answer questions regarding health and welfare benefits along with a superior attitude held by the SAG upper management to not pollute their union with extra's and TV actors defeated this merger. Hence, all dual members went on paying two sets of dues. Fast forward to last fall. Without boring you with the details, AFTRA undercut SAG by a significant margin in a debate with producers for electronic media rights and residuals, meaning internet play essentially. Technology also developed rapidly and helped AFTRA grow to be a significant power. Five years ago, digital video did not exist in any real fashion, now it is becoming the preferred means of recording television and films. Being a 'video' format it falls under the AFTRA banner. AFTRA has the significantly weaker deal both in base compensation, residual payments and health and welfare and yet they are now the dominant union. Why? Because SAG was too damn full of itself to merge when they had the chance. By rejecting the merger SAG has essentially weakened itself to the point that I do not believe it will exist in five years. Producers will take the best deal they can get and the AFTRA contract is significantly cheaper for them. Meaning, the performers, the ones that these unions are supposed to protect, will make less money on set and less money in residual payments. So, while SAG maintained its purity, it lost its soul. It may not be twenty-five cents an hour and black lung disease but it is significantly less in the pockets of its members, the exact opposite of what they were supposed to do.
Causes Thomas White Supports
Kerry Daveline Memorial Golf Tournament for the Melanoma Society. http://www.hacknsmack.org/