March 30th marked two years since AFTRA and SAG became one union. SAG-AFTRA now has an identity all its own, and it’s clear that the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts.
As its fiscal officer, I can report that SAG-AFTRA’s financial framework is far healthier and more stable than what it inherited. Before merger, work was shifting from one union to the other, and dues and initiation fee payments followed. As a consequence, one union saw a loss in revenue, while the other needed to use its increased income to pay for added staff and other resourcesrequired to service those new contracts. At SAG-AFTRA, on the other hand, with all revenue flowing into the same financial “pot” and one operation servicing all members and contracts, uncertainty is minimized. In addition, SAG-AFTRA’s unambiguous membership rules allow for accurate identification of dues-paying members and what they will contribute, while having just one union for aspiring professionals to join makes for more reliable projections about what initiation fee income to expect.
So while we can never fully control how much we take in, with SAG-AFTRA we can forecast and plan for it with far more confidence. The benefits of this predictability (coupled with careful control of expenses) were clear in the 2014-15 budget that was just unanimously approved: more than just balanced, this budget provides for a cash surplus to go into our reserves. At the same time, it funds improvements in vitally important areas such as information technology, organizing, and contract enforcement in smaller locals, and the ongoing costs of the NY office consolidation.
Finance is not the only area where SAG-AFTRA is outshining what came before. The average time needed for the new union to forward tens of thousands of residual checks is now under two weeks, a processing speed that neither predecessor union was able to sustainably achieve. SAG-AFTRA members and staff serving as Trustees on both the AFTRA and SAG Health plans have helped shepherd major progress there as well, as hundreds of members with split earnings who would have missed out on health insurance in either union’s plan may now qualify for SAG Plan 2 insurance if they have sufficient combined SAG and AFTRA income. And both Plans are now actively working toward the creation of one health plan for all members, and have committed to that goal all the attention and resources necessary.
Less tangible, but equally important, a healthy and uniquely “SAG-AFTRA” approach to governing our union is also coming into focus. As demonstrated by last fall’s inaugural election and Convention, SAG-AFTRA members aren’t interested in the old political divides, and that sentiment is beginning to be reflected in how we govern. There’s an expectation that decisions will be made not in back rooms, but in the Boardroom, with real debate and open minds. There’s a clear desire that important conversations include a range of perspectives and leaders in whom members put their faith: people with varying philosophies, those with decades of service and those new to the game, members who make their living working the variety of SAG-AFTRA’s contracts, and who represent locals of all sizes throughout America.
SAG-AFTRA is young, but it’s its own union now, and it’s already outpacing the legacies that brought it into existence. That should make us proud, and give us confidence and hope as we move through this year’s contract negotiations, and beyond, into our collective future.