The departures, comprising about 15 percent of the union’s total staff, were first reported on Thursday by Hollywood Reporter. SAG-AFTRA confirmed the departures with IBTimes but declined further comment.
In a statement first provided to THR, David White, SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director, confirmed that the buyouts are a consequence of the recent merger between the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
“When you bring together two staffs with similar responsibilities and duties, there is naturally going to be some overlap and redundancy,” he said. “This program is helping us get our staffing levels right in a way that is respectful and reflects our priorities going forward. It's only one piece of the continuing integration of our merged union.”
White went on to say that “this also affords us a unique opportunity to improve our operational structure and to think differently about how best to serve members in the rapidly evolving industries in which they work. We are taking seriously this opportunity to innovate and are pleased with the progress we've made to date.”
The buyouts are part of a voluntary severance package offered to most of the union’s 600 employees. SAG was the far larger and more powerful union at the time of the merger, which was finalized in March following two previous attempts and decades of rumors and speculation. At the time, White, who was SAG’s national executive director, indicated that no staffers would be laid off as a result of the merger.
However, there have been a few high-profile departures since the merger. Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, AFTRA’s co-national executive director, stepped down almost immediately. And last month, the union’s chief labor counsel, Tom Carpenter, left the union to become general counsel of Actors’ Equity, which covers stage actors.
For years, SAG and AFTRA coexisted in the industry, with SAG traditionally covering movies and TV shows originating on film and AFTRA covering TV shows shot on video. In the last decade and a half, however, the widespread use of digital video in TV shows had increasingly blurred the lines between the two unions’ jurisdictions.
The unions’ members finally voted on a merger in March, with more than 80 percent of both SAG and AFTRA members in favor.