There was no banner reading “Mission Accomplished” on the back wall on March 30th — exactly one month ago today — when the overwhelming vote in favor of the SAG-AFTRA merger was announced, but there might as well have been. Former AFTRA president John Connolly was quoted as saying, “Message f___ing delivered!” This was an especially triumphant moment for him, as he had presided over the AFTRA side of the previous merger effort that was defeated in 2003.
It was, indeed, an impressive victory, against what often seemed like overwhelming obstacles. However, it would be a significant mistake to look upon merger as somehow magically making everything wonderful. Almost all of the problems that challenged SAG and AFTRA individually before merger remain just as challenging post-merger. New ones are on the horizon.
Merger is, in fact, just the beginning of the journey . . . not the end. Now the hard work starts: The unglamorous work, the difficult work, the work that will test whether the new SAG-AFTRA has what it takes to remain viable and relevant in a media landscape that is in turmoil. It took a certain brand of statesmanship to navigate the merger process. Now we need the kind of statesmanship that will allow SAG-AFTRA to navigate the treacherous waters of being merged. Here are some things we believe are needed:
1. A Clear Vision. While no doubt many who voted for merger (and indeed many who voted against it) will probably stop paying much attention in the wake of the merger announcement, there are many others who remain both interested and concerned about the immediate direction of SAG-AFTRA. It is up to the elected leadership to articulate a vision for this coming transition year, to lay out the union’s priorities, and to set the tone for how the new organization will interface with its membership and its external constituencies. We believe this should come no later than the conclusion of the first plenary board meeting set for mid-May.
2. A New Effort at Unity. SAG-AFTRA must devote conscious attention to making sure all of its pieces are working together in harmony. There is always a tendency to fall into “us versus them” in a merger situation, whether because of geography or organizational heritage. It takes genuine effort to avoid this. Both staff and elected representatives must be alert.
3. A New Effort at Inclusiveness. SAG, in particular, has been hobbled by partisanship and cliquishness over recent years. It is important that the new SAG-AFTRA find ways to build bridges among various factions, and to bring new voices and talent into positions of responsibility. It would be a shame simply to trade one group of insular insiders for a different group of insular insiders. We need more than “the usual suspects” to make the kind of progress that is needed.
4. A New Effort at Openness. Members need to be kept up-to-date about what is happening with core issues. While there are undoubtedly matters that require confidentiality, the presumption should be in favor of sharing with members what is happening at the highest levels — both the challenges and the triumphs.
We do not wish to be misunderstood. We are not predicting doom. We are predicting success, and would like to see everything done that will help contribute to success. There is too much hard work at stake to do anything else.