TWIN CITIES LOCAL QUESTIONS
1) What was your opinion of the merger of SAG and AFTRA in 2012, and has that
opinion changed since? If so, how?
I supported the idea of us merging, but I did not support the merger effort because I had too many questions I needed answered, primarily financial ones, and I just didn’t receive the clarity I would’ve needed to make a strong final determination.
However, once the merger did happen AFTRA was clearly not in the positive financial position they claimed to be in. We also had to close many local offices because finances were so bad, we lost staff, we lost departments. In the last 4 years though, with the help of membership and the staff, I have been able to bring them back. Moreover, pre-merger, when SAG was negotiating with producers, AFTRA walked out of the room. And then when we went back in and negotiated our deal, AFTRA came back and undercut us.
So, is it better that we’re now merged? Yes. As in most cases, there are always pros and cons. But I can say that now that type of undercutting in negotiations can’t happen. Also, since the merger, the union has recovered financially, but our locals that were closed remain closed, and we need to get them back. While it’s been a challenging process, as President I promise I will continue to improve the state of the union, and strengthen it for the membership. We now have a merged union, a merged contract, and a merged health plan, and it’s my plan to merge the boardroom so we can truly create a culture of solidarity that serves the entire membership.
2) Can you name two or three specific concerns that Broadcast members face
and ideas that you have to address them?
Over the years we have been able to organize more shops. Since the merger, more than 20 broadcast shops have been organized by SAG-AFTRA, including NPR, Minnesota Public Radio and several local Spanish-language broadcast stations in L.A. and Chicago. The union also organized performers at Telemundo, marking the first time in 60 years that a group of performers at a major TV network has voted to unionize with SAG-AFTRA. However, we need to organize ALL Broadcast members. That’s my goal. We need to get CNN and all the big broadcasters organized and invested in the union. Another important issue for me is to ensure the safety for broadcasters and broadcast reporters.
As we see, it’s gotten more and more dangerous to work in media on camera. It’s so unfortunate. Reporters no longer go out into the field with a crew of people, they’re out there by themselves, serving the important function of informing the public. That’s why we need to be vigilant, and I will do everything I can to advocate for and institute more protections for SAG-AFTRA Broadcast members.
3) The Twin Cities Local hopes to partner with other stakeholders to encourage
the Minnesota legislature in 2021 to enact a tax credit incentive for larger budget
projects in order to attract feature films and television series to the state. As the
National President of SAG-AFTRA, in what ways are you willing to commit SAG-
AFTRA’s resources towards educating Minnesota legislators to help improve the
lives and livelihoods of members in the Twin Cities local?
Advocating for state tax incentives is a priority of mine, and it is crucial to the health of our locals that we educate state legislators, and partner up with state government organizations so we can increase employment. As the National President of SAG-AFTRA I will do everything I can to commit to educating Minnesota legislators on how important and crucial tax credit incentives are for the livelihoods of people. It’s not just about union members, when a production occurs in a certain area, everyone is affected positively with all the added revenue and job opportunities. Union productions energize the entire community.
As the President of the LA Local, and National Secretary-Treasurer I’ve been studying this issue for a while now, and it’s become pretty clear to me that states with some sort of tax incentive are states where the work is, where members have the opportunity to earn a living wage.
For example, in the state of Michigan, a state that had tax incentives, when the Governor got rid of them all the work dried up, and all the added revenue disappeared, which only hurt the people of Michigan. I am currently working with Adrian Tonon of the Office of the Mayor of the City of Detroit, along with other city and state stakeholders to introduce a Film Credit bill. The teamsters have been taking a lead on this as well. It’s been very encouraging. And it’s what I intend to do for Minnesota, the Twin Cities, and the rest of our locals across the country.
4) When SAG and AFTRA merged, we identified four core functions of the union:
negotiating contracts, administering contracts, timely payments of residuals, and
organizing. We are concerned that organizing is not as well funded as the 25% of
budget that might be suggested as one of the four core functions. Will you, as
President push for a significant increase to Organizing and if not what are your
Yes, I believe that we definitely need to increase our focus and funds on organizing. We need to organize commercials, broadcast houses, background, and educate the producers. We need to connect with all of the locals and listen to them so we can determine what specific areas they want to organize around. If you look at where we currently are with funding these 4 core functions, we can do a much better job at re-balancing them, so they are more equitable. Organizing is so crucial because we can’t get everything we want in contract negotiations, many issues are outright ignore, background getting covered just being one of them.
We can’t look to negotiations as the only way to achieve new protections and gains, organizing is a must. And we see that it works. Look what happened with getting Telemundo covered, and the success of the strike against the Bartle Bogle Hegarty ad agency. But this needs to be a sustained and strategic effort. I mean, there’s so much more we need to do. For example, I am in disbelief that we are not organizing all the young music artists in Detroit. This is Motown. And this is just one pocket of performers. There are so many of them in the Twin Cities, and in every other local area across the country.
Another state that I’m focusing on currently is New Mexico, where there is zero coverage for background performers. Which is why Netflix is building a huge production center there and planning on producing 55 projects in the very near future. Production is great. But it needs to be covered union production for EVERYBODY. That’s why I’m starting the process of educating producers about how necessary and how beneficial it is to become union, and how horrible the working conditions are when you’re not covered, and we can’t accept this.
If we can do something in New Mexico, we can use that as a template for other states and locals. The key is to start the process, which I am doing by meeting with organizers, and by encouraging them that we can achieve better protections through organizing.