Actors Largely Support Proposed SAG-AFTRA Merger At SAG Awards, But There Is Also Opposition And Concern

SAG Awards Live Blog: SAG Prez Touts Merger With AFTRA
AFTRA National Board OKs SAG Merger, SAG Board OKs AFTRA Merger
SAG Will Include Anti-Merger With Voting Materials Sent To Members

Ray Richmond and Anthony D’Alessandro are contributing to Deadline’s SAG Awards coverage

The view of the pending SAG-AFTRA merger on the red carpet before today’s SAG Awards was mixed. Supporters far outnumbered detractors but many were cautious in their enthusiasm and concerned about potential hidden traps in the deal’s fine print. About 10% of the attendees, including SAG president Ken Howard and Alec Baldwin, wore SAG-AFTRA One Union lapel pins (photo below).

Leading the support was Meryl Streep, who replied, “The merger? I’m in favor of it.” Added Kenneth Branagh: “I do think that the whole debate has been very passionate. My feeling has been, as a 20-year guild member and as a member of AFTRA, to observe that the people are trying to protect the rights of actors and those who work in our business. So that ultimately is the end here. Democracy has to be at work here. People have to take their own view on it. And this has to be very rigorously scrutinized and it will be.” Noted industry veteran Carl Reiner: “I think it’s a good idea. Actors should get together and talk about what they need, and work together as one. Might as well merge ’em.”

Another vet, Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula also threw his support behind the merger but added words of caution. “I’m in favor of all of the actors getting together and working together. And I’m very excited that both sides of the membership will get a look at something and then it’s in the members’ hands,” he said. “I have many concerns. Nothing’s perfect. We’re talking about combining two huge unions together. So not everyone’s gonna be happy. There will be people who are gonna be disappointed. But we’ve got to figure out a way to make this thing work. Not sure how I’ll vote. I have to see how this whole thing plays out.”

Jonathan Banks, a regular on AMC’s Breaking Bad, sounded a more negative tone. “The merger? I’m against it,” Banks said. “My Screen Actors Guild union has been very good to me for a long time. I think it’s a strong union. My guess is we’ll merge, and I will be a very excited participant if that happens. But for myself I’m gonna stay SAG till the day I die.”

Banks’ Breaking Bad co-star Dean Norris also expressed reservations. “I’m for the merger,” he said. “But I have concerns. Lots of them. How are they going to do the pension, how are they going to do the health care? But ultimately, divided we fall, because all of the pilots the year before went to AFTRA. I didn’t join AFTRA until last year because I didn’t have to. I have concerns, but I don’t see any other way to move ahead…What we need to do is fix the SAG stuff and move ’em to AFTRA.”

Christopher Grove, a SAG member since 1985, raised questions that are on the minds of many SAG and AFTRA members. “In theory, I have always been for one actor’s union,” he said. “Giving management two unions to negotiate with for the same work has increasingly put us in a weakened position in the digital age. However, the devil will be in the details. What happens to the payment and residuals structure? And, most importantly, what happens to the health and pension plans? Asking members to approve a merger before they know important details with respect to the pension and health plans is no different than asking someone to sign a contract to buy a house before you tell them the price.”

SAG president Ken Howard moved in to quell some of those concerns. “(We) have a fudiciary responsibility as a group, and individually, to protect pensions and heath and also pension funds,” he said. “All vested pension funds are protected by financial law. With regard to the health benefits, we have an even stronger position and we will as a merged union…We’re going to do the best that we can and try to protect actors. But we are so much stronger as the labor side of this board of trustees if we’re merged in what is always an ongoing argument.”

Jeffrey Hutchinson, a member of both SAG and AFTRA since ’84, believes that “once the last merger negotiations went south, AFTRA broke ranks and stole all of the TV shows that used to be SAG, making it virtually impossible for someone like me to qualify for health insurance. To my mind, it makes no sense to do the exact same work as an actor in an episodic TV series and not work for the same union. It’s absolutely ridiculous. That’s why I’m voting for the merger.” Hutchinson added that the “doom and gloom people” who are opposed to the merger remind him of Republicans. “It’s like, ‘No! No! Keep everything exactly the way it is or the sky is falling!’,” he said. “It’s all just based on fear. Personally, I’ve wanted this for a really long time.”

Longtime SAG and AFTRA David Dean Bottrell expressed that he’s “extremely happy” with the pending merged union and figures it was “inevitable” given how “AFTRA already has taken over TV,” Bottrell said, “I have no idea why any producer would start a TV series with a SAG contract now when they can produce it so much more cheaply with AFTRA. All of the shows left with SAG contracts will probably be canceled soon, anyway.” From Bottrell’s perspective, paying two sets of union dues has come to make less and less sense. “I had a big year in 2009, but I discovered that I didn’t have enough earnings under either SAG or AFTRA to qualify for health insurance. Here I am, a successful, working professional actor, and I couldn’t get benefits. So for the rank-and-file actors, the way I see it, we have no choice but to merge the two unions.” Bottrell added that it wasn’t so long ago that SAG and AFTRA were in “the incredibly embarrassing position of negotiating against each other. And it isn’t like we’re really talking separate groups of people. The majority of the members of one union already belong to the other.”

Chimed in Kate Flannery from The Office: “I am for the merger. I think it’s a great idea. The world has changed, and we have to change with it. Do I have concerns about it? I really don’t.” Mayim Bialik, co-star of The Big Bang Theory, echoed her sentiment. “I think I am for the merger,” she said. “I think our life is going to be easier if it happens. I have a lot of concerns. Anytime you combine two big things and put them together there’s the potential for a lot of problems. But I think it will be much simpler overall.”

Later on the show, Howard used his speech to talk up the proposed merger, which he called a “historic moment of unity.” “As one union SAG-AFTRA will support a future of great entertainment for all of us,” he said.


  1. Dean Bottrell had a “big year” but couldn’t qualify for the health insurance? So, he didn’t make more than $30,000? Not so big a year in my opinion. But, yes this merger probably does have to happen. Stupid having two unions competing and one group of people who have a hard enough time making a living as it is.

  2. He could have made $59,000 last year, but divided up between the two unions, he didn’t qualify for health insurance under either. I know a lot of people with this problem. I’m pro-merger.

    1. The point is well taken, but just for disclosure, and discussion on this board, he could’ve qualified for plan II under SAG with about 15k in earnings– it has increased each year. However, with the reduction in television residuals (remember when you’d definitely get at least one if not two primetime runs) and the advent of the ULTRA LOW CONTRACT which pays actors $100 a day, it is harder IMHO to reach those thresholds, even though I have been fortunate enough to qualify for at least one plan ever since I joined AFTRA in 1998 and SAG in 1999. I am pro-merger and anxiously awaiting the details released on the union websites Friday

      Eligibility Commencing

      Plan I

      Plan II

      January 1, April 1, July 1, or October 1, 2011


      $14,800; or 76 days or 10,700* if you are at least 40 years of age with 10 years of Earned Eligibility.

      January 1, April 1, July 1, or October 1, 2012


      $15,100; or 76 days or 10,900* if you are at least 40 years of age with 10 years of Earned Eligibility.

      Individual coverage

      To qualify for individual coverage under the Health Plan, you must have AFTRA-covered earnings of at least $10,000 but less than $30,000 in four consecutive calendar quarters or less.

      Family coverage

      To qualify for family coverage under the Health Plan, you must have AFTRA-covered earnings of at least $30,000 in four consecutive calendar quarters or less. It is important to note that performers who meet the $10,000 threshold for individual Health Plan coverage in a given quarter during their initial earnings cycle, but do not satisfy the $30,000 threshold for family coverage before that same calendar quarter ends, will only be allowed to pay the required premium and enroll in individual coverage for their first four quarter coverage period. Most commonly, this situation occurs with freelance performers and part-time staff performers.

  3. I wonder if Mayim Bialik and Claire Danes every get together for margaritas to lament the fact that no matter what else they accomplish in their careers they will always be known as Blossom and Angela Chase.

    1. I do not know Danes as Angela Chase. I never watched that show. And, I don’t remember BLOSSOM.


      Besides, Danes has more talent in her right pinky than most people have in their whole being.


  4. “Merger will solve our problems” reminds me a lot of “The oil will pay for the war.”

    If mixing AFTRA with SAG is like adding water to wine, I want no part of it.

    1. From the bottom of my heart, let me say this: To ANYONE who goes fi-core, please go fuck yourselves. Although I guess that’s redundant because you already are. You’re not helping your union, your fellow actors, or yourselves by going fi-core. Non-union work adds power to a group of producers who are already too powerful. You hurt us all. Shame on you. Really. Read that. SHAME ON YOU.

      1. Not helping our union? You’re not getting the point.

        It won’t be “our” union anymore, if SAG and AFTRA merge.

        It won’t even be a union anymore, because the new “union” will allow V.O. actors and broadcaster to continue to work non-union, like they’ve been doing for years!

        When a union allow members to work non-union, its not a union anymore.

        AFTRA isn’t a union, its a racket.

        You don’t have to go ficore, you just work non-union and call it…get this… “Working-Non-Jurisdictional”, that’s what AFTRA members do and they aren’t going to stop, if SAG and AFTRA merge.

        1. Hey Larry, no less a union than SAG or any other. You seriously expect me to believe that every SAG member has a halo and will gladly starve rather than make a living by doing whatever is necessary? Work as a prostitute or deal crack while pursuing roles, fine – but take a commercial in order to put food on the table and you consider them the scum of the earth? Who the fuck do you think you are?

      2. Hey Andy, way to keep it classy. I’d expect nothing less from a brainless union goon. It helps the union exactly as much as the union helps everyone in between both coasts. Sorry to get in the way of your precious “craft” with my VO. Between the general tone and the way you bastards acted during the 2000 strike (especially the so-called “gimp patrol” at LA McDonalds – have you no fucking shame or sense of decency that you have to stoop to making fun of handicapped people? How DARE you!) you deserve the so-called erosion you accuse FC people of. I make a living. Deal with it. And please, feel free to similarly go fuck yourself.

  5. …SAG, Actors, all you Union strikers. Please, just get out of the way of the rest of us. You’ve been holding the industry back with you “labor dispute” for over 5 years now.

    Settle this, get it done and get out of everybody’s way. We need new talent in the industry, we need better designed films. We need new scripts, new directions, new ideas overall. This has been blocked for awhile because the unions cost the industry so much money during the strikes.

    Industry needs “expansion” not just more losses. So yes, get this done so we can all get back to helping the industry we love. I’m sick of being stalled and the waiting!!!

  6. I still don’t get the “strength in numbers” argument from people who’ve announced philosophical opposition to strikes. How do more people, all unwilling to strike together, make for a stronger negotiating force? Does anyone really believe adversaries are moved by more people politely saying “please” at the same time? The only way greater numbers can accomplish anything is if those greater numbers are willing to convincingly threaten work stoppage. Then there’s power. Without it, only numbers.

  7. As a member of SAG I can tell you this merger was inially talked about years ago, although at the time defeated largely because sag productions were all over the place. These days AFTRA projects are in larger number than sag simply for the digital film aspect. If they merge and work all the issues of health care and pension out in an amicable way I think I will vote for the merge. 1 union will be able to better protect the acting community and better be able to offer benefits and resources.

    We still have to read through the details and nothing is eminent. This was defeated before and could be again, but I think their is much more support this time around.

  8. Hey, Ken…just come out and say that a merger will NOT affect my as yet uncollected pension – 15 years to go – and I’ll vote for a merger.

    But if you can’t say that…then why would I ever take a chance that you and Aftra won’t figure out some way to take from those people like me who are vested, but not yet collecting.

    Tell me you won’t mess with what I’ve yearned…tell me you won’t steal from me to pay for your beloved merger…tell me my pension is safe…and I’m all for a merger.

    But if you can’t and won’t say that…then why would I risk my retirement monies to vote yes?

    If you are vested in Sag or Aftra…you cannot vote yes. Because they are not telling us what they are going to do until after a possible merger.

    That is a disgrace.

    My solidarity is with all of us actors who have busted our hump for years and years to earn this pension. I am proud to be a SAG actor. And I am well pleased with my pension. Don’t take it from me…not even a dollar!

    1. That’s my biggest concern too. The facebook group SAG TRUTHS points out a number of valid pension related issues that have caught my attention. Why are these being glossed over in the rush to merge? Ken, I’m not convinced that best interests are at work but they may be at stake. You talk about fiduciary responsibility. If SAG P and H is an example, where was the fiduciary responsibility when it comes to the conflicts of interest being brought to light?

  9. And non-union work allows new producers / film makers to compete in an over-priced, cock-blocked union world. The other unions play nice with us, but SAG holds us hostage (and I’m not talking about wages, I’m talking residuals and all the other details in the “indie” contracts that suck the life out of the indies. The Ultra-Low Budget contract ain’t all its cracked up to be.

  10. Small note for thought re: fi-core. Not that I believe it’s right, but having worked in management/agency in a union-weak state like FL, it is nearly impossible for a SAG actor to work steady w/out going fi-core. There is nearly no union work there these days and certainly not enough print for those who’d even have a chance at earning down that road.

    Perhaps the merger would help this somehow. I know the FL SAG vets, who have had to make the unfortunate choice to keep a roof over their heads, would certainly love their share of union work back.

  11. There is s common perception that it is cheaper to produce an AFTRA show for Television than a SAG show. This is NOT TRUE for network television, and by Network, I mean SAG’s theatrical/TV contract and AFTRA’s Exhibit A. It is less expensive to shoot a SAG show, because the base rates are slightly lower(and we can all thank the absurdly long holdout in 2008 by the then leadership of SAG for this).

  12. Here’s the skinny…
    Wildly successful SAG and AFTRA actors like those quoted at the SAG awards won’t ever need and probably don’t even know what their pension is come the age of 65. Why would they care what happens to their pension due to a merger when they’re worth millions, and like unemployment benefits, will likely never apply to collect it? It’s absurd to ask these millionaires their views on a merger. They don’t live in our world anymore, and good fot them. We all aspire to their heights.
    And actors from SAG and AFTRA who are years away from being vested and are just trying to get a job are probably unwilling to believe that those who have come before them and worked and worked and scrounged to make a living in this business – but who no longer can find work because of more roles for younger folks – are frightened to death that their hard earned pension is going to be taken from them. But this is true…and the youngsters should show solidarity with these thousands of us who could be devastated by this merger.
    But both of these parties have to care.
    There are thousands of actors who have yet to collect their pension…who are relying upon that pension to keep them alive.
    If there is no plan in place for the thousands of us – yes I am one of them – who are not yet collecting a pension, but are vested, then how can any actor vote for this merger? You can’t.
    This merger does not help everyone. It is not a good idea so long as the pension and health plans are not addressed.

    Please vote NO. Help those actors who aren’t stars, who aren’t millionaires, but who have excelled enough at their craft in this tough tough business to have earned a pension…help them keep that pension by voting no.
    How can anyone with a conscience vote yes…when we have no idea what they plan to do with thousands of actors pensions?!

    Respectfully submitted…

  13. Take note that all the actors that comment in the article have no need for the Guild. Many of them are members/producers which unfortunaltly is a conflict in my humble opinion, when it came to dealing with the AMPTP.
    Why would a member/producer vote to help the S.A.G membership get a better contract when it effects their bottom line profits on all and any projects they have in a process. Danny Devito compiled a list of ‘A’ list actors that stood against the Guild membership instead of coming together in Solidarity. If they would of been true to their Guild then, they could of helped the Screen Actors Guild get a more lucritave contract for all members. But they didn’t! Instead they take out a full page ad in the trades, denouncing the Guild actions for the stance that had been taken by the membership. The membership; the actors that need the Guild. AFTRA ignored the members that carried SAG/AFTRA cards and got the broadcasters to vote up Our TV/Theatrical contract that set the template for what the new leadership at SAG shoved down the members throat. One day at AMPTP negotiation, the then interim NED declared the offer, qoute, “This Deal Sucks”. Yet two days later he was declaring it a great deal, to sell a Non-Union clause in the contract. The same contract AFTRA shoved down the Actors throat against their wishes. Then AFTRA starts undercutting the SAG offers without any investigation from the New SAG leadership as the Pilots were swept away by AFTRA without any questions from the New SAG majority leadership. S.A.G. is not a Union, it is a Guild. A Union finds you work, a Guild protects you. At the moment I don’t feel to protected. I am for one Guild, but it seems it would of been much simpler for AFTRA to negotiate with SAG in regards to the duel card carrying members. Create some faction that covered duel members. Not uproot a Grand Guild, a strong proud membership that AFTRA has had no concern over at all over the years or they wouldn’t of put the demise of our Proud Guild on the chopping block. The core group of the New SAG leadership, is the same core group that was instrumental in giving away DVD residuals when they were being negotiated for the membership. Do you SAG members truly believe that AFTRA has your back? They always undercut SAG’s negotiations to get contracts for their members. What good is that when the members are the same.

    “The only thing that can bring an Actor down is another Actor” Eddie Cantor”.

  14. FYI: The SAG-Producers Pension Plan is protected under federal law. Nothing will happen to your pension.

  15. What’s in the fine print? How can we have an opinion or vote on this if we don’t know what we are getting? SAG has always been the superior union, and AFTRA, crap. Too bad all the shows went to AFTRA. Yes it will be one mega-union, which may be better for contract negotiations as a whole, but most likely with decreased benefits (health, pension, work) for the individual actor. SAG’s a really good Guild, with an already large number of members. And residuals already cannot be tracked very well. I’m on the fence regarding the merger, leaning toward no.

  16. all i want to know is the price of the trip before being asked to take it.
    don’t give me this one for all, all for one bullshit.
    what is the new price of health insurance under the merger?
    you’ve had lots of time to think about it.
    no details? no merger. just like last time.

  17. I’m a bit confused. I paid quite a penny to join both Aftra and SAG. If the merger goes through, shouldn’t the Aftra members becoming SAG be required to pay? That revenue could be used to deal with all the new thousands of incoming members.

    1. I’m wondering exactly the same thing. At first I heard they would have to pay up the difference between the $1600 and the $3000 proposed merger initiation. Now I see they don’t have to pay anything extra at all? I just joined SAG at the beginning of January so this makes me quite upset. Basically I just wasted $2400. Nice.

  18. No one is discussing how much it means to be SAG, how hard it is to become eligible and the euphoric feeling that every pro actor gets when they finally get that card in their hands. It’s a rite of passage. To merge those high standards with an open union is to severely dilute the talent pool. For celebs it doesn’t matter, but for the rest of us, its depressing. We will now be forced to share audition rooms with hacks and the “SAG” at the top of your resume that used to stand out and mark you as special will now be as common as the word “actor” itself. I hate this merger. All SAG actors, stars especially, should renounce their AFTRA membership and watch it die. One union – SAG.
    P.s. and who is Roberta Reardon? Has she ever acted a day in her life?

    1. A rite of passage, yes, but I know many PEOPLE with SAG cards. They got it because production was looking for pink Volkswagen with steer horns mounted on the hood and got a union voucher. Or maybe they were a hot chick with big-uns. Then you meet them at a party and they flash it in your face with drunken glee and then follow up with, “I really don’t work anymore”. So I don’t see high standards, I mean how many extras have a SAG card? I just see protectionism.


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