31 January, 2008
Not only am I a member of SAG, but I also am a member of AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists). Therefore, I pay dues to two separate unions to do the same job. If I worked on stage, such as a Broadway play, I'd have to join Equity, yet another actor's union.
You've heard me complain that I feel that an actor's guild or union should be platform agnostic. I've been told that this is impossible because the purview of each separate union addresses the needs of that specific platform.
However, I call bullshit. This tired response is not an answer. It's an excuse. Maybe this serves more successful actors but it doesn't serve somebody like me in the rank and file. As a "background artist" (* see footnote) I receive very little in the way of benefits from paying costly dues to two guilds. In fact, in the over two decades I've been in AFTRA I do not qualify for their health or pension plan and it's only been recently -- as of last year -- that I've qualified for SAG's health and pension.
With all this talk from WGA and SAG needing to unionize the Internet, I see very little benefit for somebody like myself who is a very small time player in this game. And as a paid up dues member to both SAG and AFTRA, I reserve the right to bitch about it here in my blog.
I really want to know how unions can serve all its members -- not just the rich and famous , not just the working class, but also the very low income struggling artist -- in this digital age. When I asked this of Anne-Marie Johnson, Vice President of SAG, at the Fremantle Rally back in November, her response was to tell me how members could serve the union better. Perhaps she didn't hear me correctly because the question was "How can the union serve its members in this digital age." Not the other way around. At any rate, Johnson is a nice, spunky lady and she works really hard in SAG, so I'm not out to give her any grief. I'm just sayin'.
Anyway, if you've heard the podcast I did with Valerie Harper, she had some sharp criticisms about AFTRA. It's worth mentioning that she, like me, belongs to both unions.
It's also worth noting that AFTRA, unlike SAG, has been conspicuously absent in support of the WGA and their struggle and it makes me curious as to why.
(On a side note, Governer Schwarzenegger, an actor and SAG member himself, has also been conspicuously absent on this issue of the strike which I find questionable at best considering that the labor strike not only affects his former career of which he made millions, but it is also hurting one of the state's most important industries which is losing untold millions. I call bullshit here, too. Hey Arnie...do you get residuals?)
Today in my in-box I received notification that AFTRA has launched their own YouTube channel. Go AFTRA! Welcome to New Media. Now, how can you help me?
* "Background Artist" is newspeak for "extra" or "atmosphere". God love the writer who came up with that title because now I can say with pride: "I'm an (working) artist! It's on my tax return!