S.A.G., Inc.?

The Screen Actors Guild announced its new National Executive Director over the weekend at a national board meeting. As discussed in this article in Variety, the new NED is Doug Allen, currently the number 2 executive at the AFL-CIO union in Washington D.C. that represents approximately 1,800 professional football players playing in the NFL. Allen is also the Players representative to the Department for Professional Employees of the AFL-CIO which houses the new Industry Coordinating Committee (ICC) for the Arts and Entertainment Media Industry unions. S.A.G. also agreed to join the ICC this past weekend.

Allen has been with the Players Association his entire career after two years as a linebacker with the Buffalo Bills following a stint at Penn State where he earned his degree in labor studies. In light of intense hostility to the AFL-CIO in some S.A.G. quarters, including the camp that elected Kent McCord recently to replace Anne-Marie Johnson, it is intriguing to speculate on what might have given rise to a unanimous vote – apparently without any of the dissent and rancor that has accompanied previous NED hiring and firing decisions.

In addition the press is reporting that Allen will receive a three year contract, another hot button issue at the Guild. Many Guild members were upset that the union had to pay out large severance packages to departing NED’s Pisano and Hessinger. They vowed never to enter into such long term arrangements in the future, even going so far as to argue that a fifteen year old California court case allowed unions to ignore employment agreements with staff. Although at least one leading union democracy lawyer argues this case was wrongly decided, that the Guild relied on it suggests that the contract issue was very important to the Guild.

No doubt, of course, that Allen, with two decades of Washington D.C.-based AFL-CIO experience under his belt, has many skills that will be of great value to the Guild, one key to breaking the logjam on these issues may be the Guild president’s comment in the Variety article “that Allen had founded Players Inc., the marketing and licensing subsidiary of the NFLPA, and has served as president of that org since 1994. ‘I believe that Doug will be able to open millions of dollars of revenue streams for SAG,’ Rosenberg said.”

Allen helped found the licensing subsidiary of the Players union and ran it along with his wife who recently retired from the organization as well as with Gene Upshaw, the Executive Director of the Players Association. Players Inc. generates more than $130 million in revenue for the union and many of its members by licensing player images to various organization such as sports marketing firms and video game producers. Player member dues bring in only $18 million to the union. Upshaw earned more than 2 million dollars in each of the last two years, no doubt largely because of this successful business operation.

Although the issue has not been discussed publicly it may be that the search committee at the Guild, even those in the Membership First group, may view the Players Inc. approach as something the Guild can try as they grapple with rapidly changing business models in the new digital distribution EMI world. That could take the union in a completely different direction from traditional collective bargaining and raises interesting questions about the role of union officers and staff who may be compensated through a business operation. This is very different than traditional bonuses that have apparently been paid in the past to union leaders when linked to achievement of union goals set through democratic decision making. No doubt this will the subject of great interest among the Guild’s membership in the future.

Variety.com – SAG taps playmaker