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Actors agree to disagree

Jackson Bell

Local actors who voted for and against the merger of the Screen

Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio

Artists, agree that union members must work together to protect their


interests from corporate Hollywood.

The referendum, which would have consolidated the two unions into

a 150,000-member mega-union for working actors called the Alliance of

International Media Artists, fell 2.2% short of the 60% majority


needed by SAG voters to implement it, with 33,626 members voting in

favor of the merger. AFTRA voters approved the consolidation by

78.5%, or 27,553 votes.

Burbank resident and former SAG Chairman Steven Barr said he voted

against the proposal mainly because he believed the union failed to

provide balanced information, causing distrust and leading to

dissension among voters.

“If they would have given us a minority report, it probably would


have passed,” Barr said. “But the fact that they didn’t made people


Barr, a 20-year member of both unions, said that although merging

the unions was a good idea in theory, he rejected the proposal

primarily because he said pensions and health-care plans would be

weakened, and SAG would lose its autonomy.

Joseph Di Sante, a longtime member of both unions who voted for

the merger, said SAG’s history of distrust of leadership by members


is its greatest weakness. That, he added, ultimately distracts the

union from its purpose.

“I’ve been in these unions since 1965, and I can’t understand why

people can’t see who the real enemy is -- not one another but the

giant conglomerates, and they’re always going to be,” he said.

Di Sante, who worked as the head of special services for ABC-TV

for 27 years, juggled his administrative duties with sporadic TV

acting jobs. During that time, he said he observed a general

sentiment of animosity among entertainment industry executives toward


Despite their disagreements, Barr said SAG members would likely

always remain united.

“You have to consider the alternative: no union,” Barr said. “Then

[every actor] will work for $50 a day.”

Ilyanne Kichaven, spokesperson for SAG, said the election was the

closest in the union’s history, and with 54% of members returning

mail-in ballots, it was also the union’s largest voter turnout.

Although divided, she added, SAG members still want both unions to

work together in a cooperative manner.