SAG AFTRA Approved BREAKING… 3RD UPDATE: The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists  are now one union effective immediately. The announcement was greeted with huge cheers, applause, hugs, and the mass singing of “We Shall Overcome” inside the headquarters. SAG President Ken Howard and AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon, both strong advocates of the merger, announced the referendum results today in Los Angeles saying, “SAG-AFTRA is born.”  Howard continued, “This is the day that we have decisively chosen a path of unity and strength. This is the culmination of years of work. People have worked for this goal for decades. We stand on your shoulders. The members wanted merger, they wanted it as soon as possible and, member, you can be assured that you were heard. You have sent a message to our employers. You have said loud and clear this is not a fractured group but a united group. We are committed to helping to shape the future of the industries. In a single day our future has become brighter.”

After the announcement Howard told Deadline that “relief” was his persnal reaction to the refrendum result. “This merger was so necessary to the future of actors and I wanted it be resoundingly approved,” he said. “That they approved it with such a massive mandate is a huge answer for us going forward.” The single union now represents more than 150,000 actors, announcers, broadcasters journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals. Their work can be seen and heard in theaters, on television and radio, sound recordings, the Internet, games, mobile devices and home video.

Immediately, the AMPTP which represents Big Media’s studios and networks stated about the merged union: “The AMPTP looks forward to a cooperative relationship with the new performers’ organization as we endeavor to address the challenges of operating in an industry undergoing transformation.” The Directors Guild as well as the Writers Guild West and East also sent congratulations.

One nagging issue which no one at today’s podium wanted to address with substance was the future (and possible merger) of the SAG and AFTRA pension and health plans. Said SAG Executive Director David White who also has been on the Board Of Trustees of the SAG P&HP: “I think today we are celebrating but we are going to begin the process. But we don’t have much more to add at this point.” And Ken Howard said, “I think they will get a lot stronger over time. We were able to clear up a lot of misconceptions. Let me give you an example, vested pensions are protected by federal law. So they will not be diluted.”

The referendum results were:

SAG:
105,368 number of ballots mailed.
81.9 percent yes votes
53 percent returned

AFTRA:
65,744 number of ballots mailed.
86.18 percent of yes votes
51.7 percent returned

Big cheers erupted when Ken Howard said, ”Let me introduce my esteemed SAG-AFTRA Co-President Roberta Reardon, who said, “What an incredible culmination of two years of hard work. We stand as one. This new union will give us the collective voice and presence to protect our present contracts. Finally we are able to speak with one unified voice. In life there’s rarely reward without risk. There is power in a union.”

Asked by Deadline what they had to say to the anti-merger forces, Reardon replied: “I encourage them to stay involved. It’s a big tent.” To which Howard said, ”Ditto”.

AFTRA National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth said: ”This is a historic day not just for our members but the American labor movement… Today’s vote is a bold statement that union solidarity is alive and well and will not be denied.”

The first convention of the new ‘SAG-AFTRA’ union is scheduled to be held in Los Angeles around September 2013. Click here to see the merger agreement document. The results, tallied by Integrity Voting Systems, were also streamed live online Friday afternoon. A result of 60% or more from the valid returned ballots cast in each union’s vote was required for the merger to be approved. More than 131,000 ballots were sent out on February 27th to members of both unions. The deadline for ballots to be returned to be counted was 10 AM PST today. Union members were encouraged to approve the merger by their respective national boards who claimed that “one union will increase our bargaining leverage”. But anti-merger forces led by Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Anne-Marie Johnson, and other high profile critics cited concerns about other issues, SAG AFTRA Unionincluding the lack of a formal study to determine how SAG’s and AFTRA’s health and pension plans would be handled after the merger. The anti-merger group went to court to stop the vote. But on March 28, Judge James Otero dismissed their effort. However, Otero did allow the anti-merger force’s claims that the SAG board breached fiduciary duties in the proposed merger and of breach of contract to continue in the courts. But today’s referendum culminates a merger effort that has been rejected in the past by SAG members several times.

Here is the SAG-AFTRA announcement:

LOS ANGELES (March 30, 2012) — The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and Screen Actors Guild are pleased to announce that members of both organizations have overwhelmingly voted to approve a merger, creating a new entity, SAG-AFTRA. SAG members voted 82 percent in favor of the merger. AFTRA members favored the merger with 86 percent, exceeding the 60 percent threshold needed for both unions’ membership for passage.

The merger is effective immediately, and brings under a single union banner more than 150,000 actors, announcers, broadcasters journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals. Their work can be seen and heard in theaters, on television and radio, sound recordings, the Internet, games, mobile devices and home video.

“With this historic vote, members of both unions have affirmed one of the most basic principles of unionism: Together we are stronger,” said SAG-AFTRA National Co-President Ken Howard. “This merger, the result of months – really years – of planning, brings together the best elements of both unions and positions us well to thrive in the changing 21st-century media landscape.”

“The merger of these two unions is a huge victory for our members, and it is a monumental achievement for the labor movement,” said SAG-AFTRA National Co-President Roberta Reardon. “As this vote today proves, great and transformative things are possible when working Americans stand together and shape their collective destiny through their union. I applaud every member who voted, and invite all members, locally and nationally, to join with us in building a successor union worthy of AFTRA and SAG.”

In July 2010, Reardon and Howard, as presidents of AFTRA and SAG respectively, created the Presidents’ Forum for One Union to facilitate focused and informed discussions between leaders of the two unions and their members to establish a common vision for a single, new national union.

The forum included a nationwide Listening Tour, in which Howard and Reardon traveled to cities across the country to connect with members and solicit their feedback for a possible merger. They received an overwhelmingly positive response.

In June 2011, elected member leaders from both unions formed the Group for One Union — known as G1 — which subsequently created workgroups to focus on key areas such as governance, collective bargaining and operations for the proposed new union. In late January, the National Boards of AFTRA and SAG overwhelmingly voted to send the merger package to members for ratification.

SAG was the nation’s largest labor union representing working actors. Founded in 1933, it had a rich history standing up to the movie studios and trying to eliminate the exploitation of actors who were being forced into oppressive multi-year contracts that did not include restrictions on work hours or minimum rest periods, and often had clauses that automatically renewed at the studios’ discretion. With 20 branches nationwide, SAG represents more than 125,000 principal and background actors who work in film and digital motion pictures and television programs, commercials, video games, corporate/educational, Internet and all new media formats.  the International Federation of Actors. Since 1995, the guild has annually awarded the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

AFTRA represented 70,000 performers in 32 locals across the country. Their professions include actors, broadcasters, singers, dancers, announcers, hosts, comedians, and disc jockeys across the media industries including television, radio, cable, sound recordings, music videos, commercials, audio books, non-broadcast industrials, interactive games, the Internet and other digital media. The union began after Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, and radio artists from Los Angeles banded together to form the Radio Actors Guild. About the same time, Radio Equity was created in New York under the umbrella of Actors’ Equity. On August 16, 1937, the American Federation of Radio Artists was formed, succeeding Radio Equity and the Radio Actors Guild. On September 17, 1952, AFRA merged with the Television Authority and created the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

1:13 PM: The mood is visibly upbeat, indicating that the SAG-AFTRA merger has passed. But there is still no official announcement and the press conference is delayed. The problem appears to be that the livestream isn’t working. Deadline’s Dominic Patten is at the L.A. headquarters and reports, “Lots of SAG and AFTRA execs hugging and laughing.” The execs just announced that former SAG President Melissa Gilbert is there: she tried and failed to get the merger passed.

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.