Solidarity is new watchword for actors union

Screen Actors Guild (SAG) President Melissa Gilbert is hoping that stronger ties with the AFL-CIO will help both organizations advance their members’ interests in Washington and help their efforts to take on global conglomerates. Gilbert, who was in Washington Oct. 22 to receive the Labor Heritage Award from the AFL-CIO’s Labor Heritage Foundation, met with AFL-CIO President John Sweeney to discuss ways the guild and the labor federation can help each other. Gilbert is the first SAG president to receive the award.

“I am pleased that the Labor Heritage Foundation recognizes that most performers are journeymen laborers who can barely earn a living as actors; when the job is finished, we’re out of a job,” Gilbert said. “It’s an honor to receive this award in the name of all hard-working actors.”

In another example of its new outreach, SAG’s board of directors voted unanimously in October to join the National Coalition on Health Care, the 80-group alliance dedicated to improving America’s health care. SAG “is committed to working on a national solution to the health care crisis. Workers and their families across the country are losing vital health care coverage every day,” said Pamm Fair, a SAG deputy national executive director.

SAG, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and Actors’ Equity Association have met with other North American performers’ unions interested in developing an international contract to protect stage, film and TV actors. At its October meeting, SAG hosted the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television, and Radio Artists/Union Of British Columbia Performers to discuss its Global Rule One (GR1), which requires that SAG members work under guild contracts no matter where in the world the production occurs.

The Canadians support GR1 because it would encourage U.S. stars – who are SAG members but have worked in the past on non-union films in Canada – to force productions to go union or lose the box-office draws.

On Sept. 12, SAG and Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), the Australian performers’ union, issued a joint statement reaffirming their solidarity and announcing an agreement on implementation of GR1 on Australian productions.

GR1 has been enforced on productions shot in the U.S. since the Guild’s inception and began worldwide enforcement May 1. Earlier this year, the English-speaking performer unions of the International Federation of Actors met during an international conference in Toronto on global protection for actors. The SAG-MEAA agreement was the first formal agreement to come out of those discussions.

“We welcome [opportunities] to have discussions, which advance the goal of protecting all of our members,” SAG National Executive Director A. Robert Pisano said after meeting with the Canadians. “As production becomes global, organizations representing performers need to think and act globally.”

The author can be reached at crummel@cpusa.org