MEAA and CPSU: the marriage proposal
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, even as some have found to the point of imprisonment. Arguably journalism has little in common with acting except they are both considered among the creative industries. Both factions also keep a distinct identity within the shared concern.
The MEAA’s new suitor, the CPSU, is the Community and Public Sector Union. Like the MEAA it has two distinct components. 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 not since 1994.
Meanwhile the MEAA, commonly known as the “alliance” has a tag line of “the people who inform & entertain Australia.” Arguably that describes 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 financial now. it said, but the GFC accelerated long-term industry trends in A/NZ including the decline of the newsprint business, loss of FTA television advertising and declining support for performance arts. The union is worried its member base will shrink to the point it will lose its profitable enterprise and with it all its economies of scale.
Last Monday, the MEAA sent an email to all its members saying it was investigating potential marriage proposals. The major acceptance criteria the union had in mind was quality in the partnership. “It did not want to be absorbed,” it said. Beyond that they were looking to share with unions active in the same industries and covering similar work, nationally solvent, committed to organising as they were, and “internally functional.”
The MEAA told its members the CPSU were closest to addressing all the criteria. It saw the doubling of entertainment industry workers as have four key benefits: providing significant additional industrial strength, cutting down on administrative duplication, having wider geographical reach across regional Australia and having “campaign clout” to punch above their collective weight.
Senior members of both unions have already laid 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 union 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 concerned how it impacts their current 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 is also asking its members what other issues have not been 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 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.