For several months now, I've been getting emails asking if I was ever going to restart "Parts and Labor." Truthfully, I never really meant to stop writing it. I simply got incredibly busy and fell out of the habit.
As I read these
very kind emails from former readers, I told myself that I would know
when the time was right to re-launch. Something would eventually happen that would stir me to write the column again. Something I felt strongly about. Today that something arrived.
You see Tuesday, March 27th
is the FINAL day that the members of SAG and AFTRA can mail in their
ballots on the proposed merger of the two acting unions. If you are a member of
either union and if you’re ballot is still lying around your house somewhere, I
beg you to mail it TODAY. And I beg you to vote YES!
been written lately about the proposed merger. It has a long
history and has failed once before, but that was before the disasterous SAG “Non-Strike” of 2008 that resulted in all future TV work
moving to AFTRA. But more on that later.
In an effort to
not bore you, I’m going to try to stick to the major points that still seem to
be confusing or pissing off the membership. And just to make this a bit more
entertaining, I’m going to categorize them a little differently in this column
that you are probably used to seeing them. So here goes:
SNOBBERY IS DEAD
SAG has always carried a certain prestige since supposedly, not just
any old bum off the street could join. You had to have an actual offer of
union employment to become a member of the club. AFTRA, on the other hand, had an open door
policy. All you needed was a wad of cash and a dream and you were in. Any clod
could do it. This “SAG superiority” issue has always baffled me since SAG is
literally filled with thousands of actors who don’t make a living from their
acting. And probably never will. Some of them got in through Taft-Hartley or
were grandfathered in through one of the other unions or just happened to be
standing in the right place at the right time. The idea that the SAG membership
is somehow more talented or better trained than AFTRA is sort of silly. Yes,
SAG can claim Meryl Streep and Ryan Gossling, but it covers Pamela Anderson and
Hulk Hogan. Case closed.
NEWSCASTERS ARE NOT EVIL
diehards are having an issue with the idea of sharing a union with newscasters.
I don’t get this. AFTRA has covered both newscasters and actors for
approximately 60 years with no serious problems. What’s weird about the
“Newcasters aren’t Actors”argument is that SAG, in addition to covering actors,
has for years covered background
extras, stunt people and (when needed for SAG projects), dancers! What is now
being proposed is creating one union to cover ALL ON-CAMERA PERFORMERS. There
is nothing complex about this concept. In fact, if in the future we are ever
forced into a strike it could be in our best interest to have such a diverse
group of talent under one roof.
TRUTH #3: WE
DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING YET…AND THAT’S OKAY.
pension plans under both unions are protected under federal law. No one will lose
anything. Yes, once merged, the health insurance coverage will eventually
change. It will have to and hopefully it will change for the better. The best
news is that once we are merged, the "split earnings" issue can be finally be
addressed. This gnarly problem hits particularly close to my heart since in 2009, I
worked under all three of the actors’ unions: SAG, AFTRA and Actor's Equity
(the stage union). I was so happy! I truly thought I'd had a terrific year as a
professional actor. That is until I discovered that because my earnings were
split between 3 unions -- I had no health insurance! If the purpose of an
acting union is to look after the best interest of its members, then that union
should understand the basic reality of any actor’s life: You have to take the work where you can get it. You should never be
penalized for being lucky.
TRUTH #4: IT’S
STUPID TO HAVE TWO UNIONS
don’t have two unions. The directors don’t have two unions. Why do the actors? This wasn’t such a big deal until recently. Up until 2008, AFTRA’s
jurisdiction was pretty small and both acting unions always negotiated
their contracts together. But then there was a ridiculous break between the two unions in ’08
(Don’t get me started on that!) A window opened for management to play one
guild against the other, and in the resulting flurry of insanity all future television work fell into the hands AFTRA. This was definitely a
win for the producers’side since AFTRA contracts are cheaper than SAG’s. Sadly,
that’s done now and there’s no backing up. I, for one, no longer want to pay
dues to two unions when neither is currently doing a great job for me. What’s
particularly ironic about the two union system is that the working membership of these both these unions are virtually
identical. We’re talking about the exact same people.
TRUTH #5: IT’S
Like or not, actors are high-strung people with a certain flare for drama.
Much of the membership tends to think of a union as some kind of shining beacon
of hope; something to cheer them up when get that sinking feeling that they’ll
never work again. But that’s not really what either SAG or AFTRA are about.
What needs to be clear here is that these are labor unions; meaning they are here to assist and protect people when they are working. In order to do
that, they need to keep up with the times. Personally, I’m delighted that if we
merge, the AFTRA open door policy will remain in place. The more the merrier!
Those initiation fees will help provide us with revenue that could perhaps be
used to hire top-notch I.T. people capable of locating our always hard-to-find
foreign residuals. And wouldn’t it be great if we could afford some
heavy-hitting labor attorneys who could (if needed) sue the crap out of the six
(six!) corporations who now control all available jobs.
Yes, the merger
will change some stuff. Not everybody will be happy about that. That’s not just
show business, it’s life. It seems to me that most of arguments against merger
are mired in nostalgia for the good old days. As we just saw, the automobile
industry was saved in part by the UAW acknowledging that the past (glorious though it was) is gone forever. The same wisdom will hold
true for actors. There is a not-so-secret battle being waged to wipe out the
whole concept of residuals. Yes, we’ve lost a little ground in the past few
years, but the war is far from over and we still have quite a few excellent
bargaining chips left on the table. What’s needed now is for us to play the
game smartly. And in my humble opinion, nothing could be smarter than to
consolidate our unions and start trying to better our future.
One thing I can
absolutely guarantee is that if we do not
merge, nothing will get any better. This is the smartest idea we've come up with in a long time. Let's not blow it!
Bottrell is a writer and actor based in Los Angeles. DavidDeanBottrell@gmail.com