On the cover you see our name and logo writ large across our LA headquarters. We don’t own the building but traded an expansion of our lease commitment there for naming rights, considered a forceful display of our strength and permanence in the film and TV industry’s company town. Our new Manhattan office likewise was designed to make a statement: spacious and elegant, with a beautiful view and comfortable amenities, it projects to those who enter it a sense of power and plenty.
These showcases and the statements they make have value, but they don’t come cheap. As a fiscal stewards of your dues money I’m acutely aware that our resources are finite and need to be properly allocated across the ecosystem that is our national union. I believe that engaging our members means remembering the fundamental purpose of that an office can serve: as a safe place for the members who live or work nearby to gather, find staff support, and create the power of collective action.
Decades ago, Nashville’s professional recording artists found themselves a lonely island of organized labor in a state and an industry with little need for unions. Already highly engaged with their union and each other, they determined they needed a permanent home. A small, unprepossessing building was purchased, right in the heart of Nashville’s famed Music Row. For members living or working in Nashville it supplied a place to strategize, share information, get help from staff and even record. For the music community it was a reminder that Nashville was AFTRA’s town, too.
Inspired directly by the needs of its members, this simple structure (and its successor) is still a bulwark against exploitation. Of course, we can’t afford brick and mortar offices everywhere there’s work. In fact, after merger our execs recommended saving money by closing offices in ten of our smallest locals, and leadership agreed. But we also promised to develop criteria for identifying where SAG-AFTRA needs a physical presence, and national review with those criteria in mind.
The time for that analysis is now, before we commit more resources to our physical plant. Work is exploding beyond NY and LA and members are following it. It’s going anti-labor states where union contracts are the rare exception, not the rule. It’s growing in locals with large pools of non-union talent who aren’t convinced that the union jobs will be there for them if they take the plunge. It’s in areas unaccustomed to film and TV production where members are the most vulnerable, such as the Georgia shoot where IATSE sister Sarah Jones died and our actors endangered. There’s also immense organizing potential being exhibited in these smaller broadcast markets as stations nationalize.
These places represent the future of our business, and members know that an office can be a vital tool in the battle to maintain a union presence. As part of the “education and outreach” we’re starting, we need to be educated by our already engaged members about what they really need. We can’t argue for the impact of our expansive NY and LA headquarters and at the same time minimize the importance of physical outposts in more challenging areas.
Our offices don’t all need to be elaborate or imposing; after all, the movement that eventually lead us to this merger started in my dining room – 300 sq ft with a table, 8 chairs, wifi and a phone. All we may need is space for members working our contracts to meet, share ideas, work with staff, plan for our future – and call their own.