Despite their shared contracts and members, SAG and AFTRA were entities with very different configurations and business practices. When merger passed and we needed these disparate organizations under one roof, we began by simply combining them, maintaining most of both unions’ former structures and expenses. While we then gradually integrated wherever we could, starting this way meant spreading our resources far and wide.
Now, with SAG-AFTRA’s first full year behind us and the need to budget for our second, your leadership has taken stock of what we need, what’s working and what isn’t. And we’ve determined that what’s called for now is bold strategic action.
For decades, the conflict between SAG and AFTRA –as well as efforts to end it—drained resources and distracted both from really focusing on member service or keeping up with the furious rate of technological change. But while that may be what we inherited, it is not want we want for our new organization. With production and our members spread across the nation, we must be able to serve everyone from anywhere. To do that – and to make sure we’re as efficient and effective as possible in all we do—we need to dedicate extra resources right now to upgrading and expanding SAG-AFTRA’s information technology capabilities.
IT is involved in nearly every aspect of the union’s work: directing your phone call and getting it answered; providing data to staff and allowing them to share it; tracking your residuals and getting them to you; arming negotiators with powerful statistics; getting producers signed to our contracts, then making sure they honor them…The list, as they say, goes on and on. And the time to get current with our IT is now, before we start our next round of negotiations.
Given our not unanticipated budget shortfall (the difference between those expenses we inherited from AFTRA and SAG and the revenue currently coming into our merged union), funding these improvements will require that we to trim our budget in other areas. The lion’s share of these cuts will come from our LA and NY facilities, where we have the greatest duplication of services from the two former unions. But cutbacks will also be spread across the country, and will include closing physical offices in some of our smallest locals. Although there is a strategic plan to ensure that the members in these areas are still served, these changes will no doubt be painful for those familiar with and fond of their local staff.
Hard as it is, it’s the right thing to do at this time, so that we arm the union and its staff with the tools necessary to function at the highest level. What’s more, getting our operations up to speed is our best hope for being able to expand again in the future: lowering costs through efficiency and increasing revenue with easier organizing and better enforcement can help us grow our reserves and give us the option to enlarge our presence once again, as we have in the past.
But for now we’ll be focusing on one thing: bringing our new union into the 21st century so it’s doing everything possible to protect you and your future.
Amy Aquino and Matt Kimbrough