Saturday, March 31, 2012

United we stand

Yesterday was historic for me and 130,999 other actors in the US who work in film and/or TV: our two unions merged into one. Yesterday at 1:35 PT Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists became SAG-AFTRA. After 80 years of sometimes feverish, sometimes tepid talks of merger, the membership of both unions voted to unite. In spite of opposition led by some pretty big names, including former SAG President Ed Asner (who says this plan will hurts the SAG pension and health benefits) most rank-and-file actors I know have been longing for a merged union for years.

We are proud to be union members! And now our One Union will be stronger to fight for our wages and working conditions.

You probably don't think about it, but it's not easy being a film or TV actor -- unless you are a star who can negotiate a separate contract. The rest of us are grateful for the protection of the union. When I work a shoot with non-union actors they begin the day thrilled just to be near the set. They can't imagine why we need to be paid for this, for goodness sake! By lunchtime they are dragging because our day has been "hurry-up-and-wait". Then, all at once, we are called to set and have to be brilliant on command. Again and again. Take after take. Fortunately we get overtime after eight hours (well, nine, but lunch doesn't count), but can't leave early to pick up our kids at daycare! It takes discipline and dedication. Often those non-union people don't show up the next day. They worked for their lunch and the excitement of it all. They never counted on the patience they would need to get through hours of waiting for lights to be focused, sound to be connected, camera angles to be set.

Movies and TV shows provide viewers worldwide with escape, relaxation, entertainment and enlightenment. But they are much harder and more complicated to create than you will ever know. The weavers of dreams are professionals who hide the machinery and the sweat of their hard work. I am proud to be among them. And now, with a stronger union, we can take on the producers who want to film offshore or in dangerous conditions, or claim that the rules don't apply to talent employed in "new media." And maybe the rest of the country will realize that - hey- if my favorite TV star or film actor not only belongs to a union, but voted to make the union stronger, maybe unions aren't such awful, subversive things after all!

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