LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Members of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have approved a merger, officials from the two acting unions announced Friday.
KNX 1070′s Vytas Safroncikas
A total of 86 percent of voting AFTRA members approved the merger, while 82 percent of SAG members who cast ballots voted in favor.
"The merger of SAG and AFTRA is approved," SAG President Ken Howard bellowed at a Los Angeles news conference, drawing cheers from the union members and officials in attendance.
Some in the audience jokingly began singing, "We have overcome."
Discussions about a possible merger of the unions began in April 2010, although formal negotiations did not start until until last summer.
The negotiating teams announced in January that they had reached a proposed merger agreement, which was later approved by the boards of both unions. The issue was then put before the unions' membership.
SAG is the nation's largest labor union representing actors, with more than 125,000 members working in films, television programs, commercials, video games and in online and new-media programming. AFTRA has 70,000 members, including actors, broadcasters, singers, dancers, announcers, comedians, disc jockeys and other performers.
Both unions are headquartered in Los Angeles.
Some members of SAG -- including Martin Sheen, Ed Asner and Valerie Harper -- filed a lawsuit in federal court trying to block the proposed merger, claiming the union failed to conduct an in-depth study of the effects a merger would have on SAG members' pension and health benefits.
On Wednesday, however, U.S. District Judge James Otero rejected the challenge, declining to issue an injunction halting the union balloting.
"Voting in favor of merger may or may not be in the best interest of the majority of union members," Otero wrote. "But the decision, for better or worse, belongs to the members, not to plaintiffs and certainly not to the court."
(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)
for more features.