In the end, the two major Hollywood acting unions couldn’t get their act together. Despite majority support among the rank and file of both the Screen Actors Guild (representing movie performers) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, there weren’t enough votes to consolidate the two into one mega-union. To pass, the measure needed the approval of 60 percent of the voters in both unions, but in results announced late Tuesday, the SAG vote fell short. While 76 percent of AFTRA voters favored consolidation, only 58 percent of SAG voters agreed.
Both sides of the issue had famous names in support. Those backing consolidation, including Tom Hanks, Martin Sheen, Susan Sarandon, and SAG president Melissa Gilbert, argued that the bargaining power of a larger union (which would have been called the Alliance of International Media Artists) was needed to fight the effects of consolidation among big media conglomerates (such as Viacom, Vivendi Universal, and EW.com parent AOL Time Warner), whose wave of mergers in recent years has led to cost-cutting and mass layoffs in order to pay down the cost of the mergers and boost the stock prices of the enlarged companies.
Those who spoke out against the merger included past SAG presidents Charlton Heston and Ed Asner, current SAG recording secretary Elliott Gould, Rob Schneider, and Valerie Harper, who lost a bitterly contested presidential election to Gilbert. Their concerns included loss of autonomy, rising dues, and unresolved pension issues lingering from the last attempt to combine the unions in 1999.