/*SAG*/ and /*AFTA*/ boards began discussing the merger two years ago to consolidate bargaining power in the industry. They reached an agreement in January before the members voted in February.
SAG members voted 82 percent in favor of the merger. AFTRA members voted 86 percent for the merger. Both unions needed at least 60 percent voting approval to merge.
The merger takes effect immediately. The union will be known as SAG-AFTRA.
"Most important, you have sent a message to our employers. You have said loud and clear: 'This is not a fractured group. No, this is a united group,'" said SAG President Ken Howard.
"You have a situation right now where about 50 percent of the scripted television work is SAG and about 50 percent is AFTRA. So you have situations where actors are working guest shots on three or four SAG shows and three or four AFTRA shows, and failing to qualify for the health plan in either union," said actor Stephen Collins
The two unions are the largest in Los Angeles. SAG is the largest labor union representing actors, with 125,000 members working in movies, TV shows, commercials, video games as well as online and new-media programming. AFTRA has 70,000 members including actors, broadcasters, singers, dancers, announcers, comedians, DJs and other performers.
"What this says is unions are here to stay and are coming back strong," said actor Mike Farrell.
Some SAG members, including Martin Sheen , Ed Asner and Ed Harris, had filed a lawsuit in federal court trying to block the proposed merger, citing concerns over pension and health care benefits. But U.S. District Judge James Otero rejected that challenge, declining to issue an injunction halting the union balloting.
The big remaining question: What happens to the health plan and to the pension plans? Now the unions have merged, they're going to commission a study to examine the issue.