The MEAA union revealed to its members in an email last week it would be asking them whether they should merge with a bigger union, the CPSU. Given the MEAA is the journalists’ union, the most remarkable aspect of this proposal there is little in the media about it.
The MEAA is the Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance, itself a merger of older actor and journalist unions. As well as being the peak representative body for journalists, the union gives its name to a journalistic code of ethics its members are bound to, to the point of imprisonment. Journalism has little in common with acting except they are both among the creative industries. Both keep a distinct identity within the shared concern.
The MEAA's new suitor is the Community and Public Sector Union. Like the MEAA it has two halves. The PSU-Group has members in administration, sales, engineering, communications and information technology involved in a wide range of industries including the public sector, telecommunications, call centres, employment services, commercial broadcasting, the aviation industry and science and research. The other half, the State Public Service Federation Group covers members in State government and related employment. The PSU-Group has around 60,000 members. The SPSF Group has around 100,000 members. The CPSU is no stranger to amalgamation having done so five times though none in the last 16 years.
Meanwhile the MEAA, or the “Alliance”, has a tag line of “the people who inform & entertain Australia.” That could describe broadcasters in the CPSU PSU-Group as much as it does journalists and actors in the MEAA. But few of the other parts of the CPSU’s brief have much in common with the creative industries’ approach to the division of labour.
The MEAA said the merger talks were a matter of securing the future of its existence. It is not struggling financially now. it said, but the GFC accelerated long-term industry trends in A/NZ. These included the decline of the newsprint business, loss of free-to-air television advertising and declining government support for performance arts. The union is worried its member base will shrink to the point it will lose its abilities to make a profit and bring all its economies of scale.
Last Monday, the MEAA sent an email to its members saying it was investigating potential marriage proposals. The major acceptance criterion the union had in mind was quality in the partnership. “It did not want to be absorbed,” it said. Beyond that they were looking for unions active in the same industries and covering similar work, solvent, as committed to organising as they were, and “internally functional.”
The MEAA told its members the CPSU were closest to meeting all five criteria. The were also five benefits: the doubling of its entertainment industry workers base, the additional industrial strength, less waste, having wider geographical reach across regional Australia and having “campaign clout”: the ability to punch above their weight.
Senior members of both unions have already laid out much of the groundwork for the wedding but it acknowledges there are sticking points in the dowry much of which relate to power structures. For instance, the MEAA is unsure whether "existing autonomies" will carry over to the combined body and how many seats they will have at council and executive levels. It is also worries about its own set of paid officials.
The MEAA is now calling for a vote of members for approval to continue to work towards an in-principal agreement with the CPSU. It also asks its members to think of other issues not yet considered. It launched a merger debate blog for members to discuss the issue. The early comments suggest there is a lot of opposition to the proposals with a tally of 14 comments to 2 going against the proposal at the time of writing.
Alliance Queensland Secretary, Terry O'Connor said on the blog the merger is “not a done deal” but it is difficult to accept this totally given the emotional investment those already in the talks have in a successful outcome. With 160,000 members in the CPSU and just 22,000 in the MEAA it is also difficult to accept it as a marriage of equals. While O’Connor’s blog has had some engagement and response, it is surprising to see so little questioning of it in the media so far from journalists who are directly affected.