Secretary Treasurer Letter, Fall 2011

I’m honored to have been asked to serve two more years as SAG’s Secretary Treasurer. I say this notwithstanding the fact that I was running unopposed and therefore – let’s face it – the voters really didn’t have a choice.  In all seriousness, I do appreciate the vote of confidence; it’s been a challenging couple of years, with more challenges ahead.

Since my start at SAG, the goal has been to “do more with less” in order to put the Guild on a sound financial track.  We looked for and found economies everywhere:   We held off on filling staff positions, and redistributed work to maximize the output of each staff member. We migrated to the internet, offering paperless billing and even making it possible for producers to become SAG signatories online – which not only reduced costs but is actually creating thousands of new SAG jobs by attracting new production.   We’re using teleconferences, videoconferences and webinars to save travel expenses, and we now hold large meetings in SAG’s own facilities instead of hotels. These efforts and more are saving millions of dues dollars each year.

There’s a limit, however, to how much SAG can “do more with less” and still do all it takes to protect its members.  Employers started moving TV work from SAG to AFTRA three years ago, and that shift – along with other industry trends – is making it increasingly challenging for SAG to maintain the high level of service our members expect with our current financial structure. This will need to be addressed, and soon.

This division of work is not only a challenge for SAG’s budget; it’s also making it nearly impossible to earn a living as a member of just one union. With the split in TV (and internet and interactive) work, performers at nearly every level are discovering that they need to belong to both SAG and AFTRA just to keep their heads above water. For those who’ve only ever belonged to SAG, for instance, that means paying a second initiation fee to join AFTRA, as well as two sets of annual base dues –a total of over $240 per year.  For those just starting out that’s two initiation fees – nearly $3900 total – plus that same combined base dues hit, before they’ve even had the chance to start earning anything substantial.

This is hardly the highest dues or initiation fee schedule of any union. And given all that SAG and AFTRA need to do to keep up with the seismic changes in our industry – to enforce multiplying contracts, organize new media, track and pay our ever-multiplying residuals, fight internet theft – it may well be a reasonable amount to pay for union protection.

But what are we getting for this extra outlay of cash?  Competing unions, with less leverage at the bargaining table and wasteful duplication, not to mention the strong likelihood that the work that we do won’t earn us pension or health benefits because our contributions will be divided –and this at the same time that skyrocketing health care costs and market volatility are forcing tougher qualifications for both.

I call this getting less for more – and we all deserve better.

There‘s a solution, and by now you know what that is –creating real bargaining strength for all performers by bringing SAG and AFTRA together as one union. Your SAG leaders are hard at work at that, and as Treasurer I’m especially focused on developing a financial plan that is fair and affordable, but will still provide enough revenue to fund a new merged union that can truly protect all its members, now and into the future. I look forward to bringing you that plan soon, and am excited to be so near to what I hope will be a proud and powerful new dawn for us all.

Amy Aquino
Secretary Treasurer