MEAA and CPSU: the marriage proposal

The MEAA union revealed to its members in an email last week it would be asking whether they want to want to merge with a bigger union, the CPSU. Given the MEAA is the journalists’ union, the most remarkable aspect of this proposal there is nothing in the media so far 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, as some have followed to the point of imprisonment. Journalism has little in common with acting except they are among the creative industries. Both factions keep a distinct identity within the shared concern.
The MEAA’s suitor 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 across 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.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.

The MEAA said merger talks were about securing its existence. It is not struggling financially, 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 profitability and economies of scale.

Last Monday, the MEAA sent an email to members saying it was investigating marriage proposals. The major acceptance criteria the union wanted was quality in the partnership. “It did not want to be absorbed,” it said. 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 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 laid much of the groundwork but there are sticking points over power structures. 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 paid officials.

The MEAA is calling for a vote of approval to work towards an in-principal agreement with the CPSU. It is also asking 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.

Queensland Secretary, Terry O’Connor said on the blog the merger is “not a done deal” but there is much emotional investment in a successful outcome. With 160,000 members in the CPSU and 22,000 in the MEAA it is not 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 directly affected.

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