Guild Merger War Gets Ugly

Jun 23, 2003  •  Post A Comment

With 133,174 ballots in the hands of guild members, the battle for votes in the proposed merger of Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television & Radio Association has turned ugly as pro- and anti-consolidation forces continue to fight, using celebrity proxies in hopes of swaying undecided members.
At a press conference at SAG West headquarters in Los Angeles last week, about two dozen notable actors were arranged like trophies behind SAG president Melissa Gilbert and AFTRA president John Connolly as the guild leaders restated their case.
“I voted yes because I believe digital is coming; I voted yes to control the change, I don’t want the change to control me,” Ms. Gilbert declared. “We cannot wait another day.”
Ms. Gilbert then noted that SaveSAG, the group made up of opponents of the merger, added Helen Hunt’s name to its campaign materials despite Ms. Hunt’s request to be removed. SaveSAG has countered that the guild’s campaign added merger opponent Andrew Prine’s name to its list without his permission.
It was just the latest salvo in the ongoing sniping. On the “Howard Stern Show” the week before, Ms. Gilbert dismissed the opposition as having a “fear of change.” SaveSAG member and former president of SAG William Daniels countered in the New York Times that AFTRA was “a crummy little union,” while SAG VP Mike Farrell called the opposition “childish and disheartening” in the Los Angeles Times.
Commenting on the opposition, “7th Heaven” star Stephen Collins joked, “I’ve heard it said that if SAG and AFTRA were to vote on immortality, 20 percent would vote against it.”
The line received a big laugh at the conference, but for members against the merger who were literally left out on the sidewalk (claiming SAG officials would not allow them in the building), the comment was typical of what they see as an ongoing attempt to trivialize their concerns.
“It’s never been about SAG’s wanting to discuss the merits of the plan, it’s been about personal attacks,” SaveSAG spokesman Mark Carlton said. “There’s been no substance. It’s been about attacking the veracity and integrity of the people opposing the merger.”
The guild campaign has also been more pervasive. Members have received pro-merger literature with their dues bills and residual checks and at film screenings, while SaveSAG has successfully been kept on the defensive.
Vote Won’t Silence Debate
Even Academy Award winner and opposition sympathizer Martin Landau found his mark outside the SAG building, where he sidewalk-stumped against consolidation.
“I was against this four years ago when exactly the same thing was brought up, and nothing has changed,” Mr. Landau said. “My concerns and Tom Brokaw’s concerns are not the same. It’s going to become a total mess. I just hope people come to their senses.”
After the media blitz guild and opposition members returned to the phones to press their cases with potential fence-sitters. But even with ballots now coming in, nobody expects the results announcement on July 1 to silence the debate.
“I’m sure the day after the count there will be so many lawsuits and injunctions it will make your head spin,” said AFTRA spokesperson Jayne Wallace.
For some members, the prospect of continued fighting is particularly worrisome.
“We should be concerned with losing power outside the union,” said actor Jason George. “I’m tired of actors fighting actors, I don’t want to fight other actors.”
He considered. “Unless I have a sword in my hand.”