When we first set out toward merger, our priorities were clear: consolidate the organizations, membership, staff and offices; achieve fiscal stability; prepare to negotiate our major contracts as one union; and direct the trustees of our health and pension/retirement plans to get those merged as well. Having reached those goals, it’s time to step back and determine what members need SAG-AFTRA to tackle next. Soon your national elected leadership and staff will start this strategic planning, identifying big-picture goals and ways to achieve them. It’s an exciting and rewarding collaborative process, and I look forward to being a part of it.
But taking the pulse of our members’ realities isn’t meant to be a once-in-a-while activity. After all, SAG-AFTRA has no product or service to sell – it only exists to serve the members whose dues keep it alive.
To ensure that the union stays linked with its members’ work-life and needs, we’ve established an array of committees. Each committee focuses on a different type of work or initiatives , and is populated by members with experience and expertise in that area. When conducted with clear purpose and discipline, these committees can be an indispensable resource for staff and elected leadership alike.
The Commercial Performers Committee exemplifies the value of a well-run committee. In simple monthly phone calls, this large but focused group shares workplace experiences, troubleshoots trends, and informs and strategizes with staff. Their work helped prepare us for the Commercials negotiations, and what commercials performers need beyond the bargaining table. Another group, our brand-new “Next Gen Performers Committee”, is made up of tenacious young volunteers determined to connect SAG-AFTRA with their disengaged peers. Alongside staff who shared their vision, they used sheer force of will—and the power of social media—to bring nearly two-hundred young members together at a union event that excited and inspired everyone present. As a result we now can finally begin to learn what matters to this important group, and enlist their support when we need it.
While our committees are an essential link to our members and our contracts, we’ve had to hold back on most of them for the last few years to allow us to concentrate on integrating the organizations. Now the time has come to reactivate them, and to charge them to get to work identifying our members’ real-world challenges.
SAG-AFTRA is blessed with exemplary staff and an extraordinary navigator in chief executive David White, who has honored us by agreeing to extend his contract. But our union has always depended on its members to help define the organization: to identify problems, brainstorm alternatives, and bird-dog solutions. Sadly, we have just lost two of those committed member visionaries: National Board members Sumi Haru and Marcia Strassman. For decades, Sumi used the challenges faced by performers of color to forge the unions’ powerful equal opportunity initiatives. Marcia brought her experience of working contracts under two unions to her passion for merger, both in 2003 and again in 2012. I was fortunate to call them colleagues and friends, and mourn their passing. I hope we’ll honor their legacy by finding and engaging their successors, the next generation of volunteer members whose experience and passion will shape SAG-AFTRA for the future.