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Coming Soon? Hollywood Abuzz As AFTRA, SAG Merger Talks Heat Up

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Then-SAG President actress Melissa Gilbert and former AFTRA President actor John Connolly along with other SAG and AFTRA Members on picket lines in Burbank in December of 2003. Analysts say the two sides are much closer to a deal than they were in 2003. (credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Then-SAG President actress Melissa Gilbert and former AFTRA President actor John Connolly along with other SAG and AFTRA Members on picket lines in Burbank in December of 2003. Analysts say the two sides are much closer to a deal than they were in 2003. (credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — The state of some of Hollywood’s biggest unions is influx heading into this year’s Labor Day weekend.

AFTRA and SAG seem to be getting closer in merger talks. Entertainment attorney Jonathan Handel told KNX 1070 that discussion of such a move has been around ever since the unions were founded in the 1930s. Handel notes, though, that there are a couple of enduring sticking points.

“There is an element within SAG that feels… well really two things. One is [this element] – with all respect – [this element doesn't] want the broadcasters and they don’t want the sound performers from AFTRA, which are the other two major groups in AFTRA. And the other thing is, they feel that AFTRA all makes compromises, isn’t as strong as SAG, etc. etc.”

But Handel says that the opposition is shrinking.

“Overwhelmingly, the elections in the last couple years, has favored a slate that’s run completely on a pro-merger platform — that’s been merger, merger, merger has been their platform and the voters have gone for it,” he said. “I think people at this point, look at things and say ‘you know, we have this stalemate with SAG after the writer’s strike. That was crazy. My dues and earnings are being split between two unions so I sometimes don’t qualify for health care or pension whereas I would have if it was all one union. And the studios get to play the two unions off against the other.’ You know, those are really good, compelling arguments and I think that this may have a different result than 2003.”

And as for the scribes of Tinseltown, the Writers Guild of America West has mailed out ballots to elect new officers and eight board members.

But Handel said it’s unclear whether the WGA has deep divisions among its ranks.

“There probably are, although, you know it’s interesting. They don’t come out or aren’t coming out in this election as dramatically as they have in the past,” he said. “Some observers have written about this as an almost quiet election.”

“Patric Verrone, who was the president of the Writer’s Guild during the strike in 2007-2008, is running again. His opponent is a writer named Christopher Keyser. It’s not clear that there’s the sense that ‘Oh gee, if Verrone wins, that this is paving the way to another strike.’ It’s hard to tell,” Handel added.

“The Writer’s Guild and SAG are the two unions that historically have been the ones that do go on strike. The DGA – Director’s Guild – struck once in its 70-year history and that was for five minutes… three hours and five minutes on the East Coast; five minutes on the West Coast. AFTRA, I don’t think has every struck the entire entertainment industry. SAG and AFTRA did have a joint commercial strike about 10 years ago,” he said.

This upcoming presidential term runs for two years and the Writer’s Guild contract is up in three years.

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